A chef and her guests talk at a dinner party she's hosting in her apartment. A chef and her guests talk at a dinner party she's hosting in her apartment. A chef chats with her guests about Japanese cuisine. (All photos: Ilana Strauss/From the Grapevine)

My dinner with strangers, thanks to an innovative app

How technology brought a diverse crowd together for a dinner party.

I'm sitting with a dozen or so people I don't know at a dinner table inside a stranger's apartment. A skylight suns the vines that cover the walls, and wall-to-wall shelves are stocked with more herbs and spices than I can count. The chatter subsides for a moment as the host brings out the next dish: an elaborately decorated egg-tofu custard. I pick up my chopsticks and pop a bit into my mouth, delighted at how the thick, creamy dish manages to be both so smooth and hearty at the same time.

I'm at a dinner party run by Eatwith, an app created in Israel where diners can sign up for a fee and visit chefs' houses to eat top-quality meals with other diners: essentially, the tech version of a dinner party.

Meal-sharing apps are becoming more and more popular. Sometimes called the "Airbnb of food," these apps promote paying for home-cooked meals. Some, like Washington-based Feastly and Argentina-based Cookapp, invite users to professional chefs' houses for luxurious dining. Others, like Amsterdam app Shareyourmeal, are more informal and hook neighbors up to share meals and leftovers.

A Japanese salad and fried tofu, made with vegetables grown on the chef's own rooftop garden. A Japanese salad and fried tofu, made with vegetables grown on the chef's own rooftop garden.

Ai prepares the first course, a medley of bite-sized tastes. "A painting is at its most beautiful when presented by the artist. Food is the same," declares Cookapp's website.

I learned about all this a few weeks ago after wondering if someone had come out with an app for sharing food yet. After a Google search brought up meal-sharing app Eatwith, I was immediately curious. After browsing on Eatwith a bit, I found "Ajito tasting menu: Japanese inspired kitchen" in an apartment just a train ride away in Brooklyn.

When I arrived at the apartment, Ai, the host, was feverishly preparing her first course. Ai grew up in Japan, where her mom taught her to cook a variety of traditional dishes. She and her husband, Matt, built a small garden on their New York rooftop where they grow their own vegetables and herbs.

That was part of what drew me to this meal: Ai uses homegrown vegetables in the kitchen, along with other organic foods from local markets. I've been working on being more food-conscious lately — me and just about everybody else — so I wanted to try something healthy and natural.

I introduced myself to a few other early guests, and we enjoyed pre-dinner drinks, including Ai and Matt's homemade kombucha.

Once the dinner got started, Ai would bring out a course and tell us a bit about it. I sorely needed this information; as it turns out, eating burritos and Pad See Yu didn't mean I knew much about food from around the world.

We enjoyed dishes like stuffed tomato, fried tofu, Japanese salad, mushroom soup and a gelatinous dessert that tasted like the Chanel of Jell-O.

As I ate, I got to know the other guests. I met a couple who were visiting from Chicago, a New Jersey psychologist, a woman from India and a man from Taiwan. We talked a lot about travel, a topic that we, as non-native New Yorkers, could relate to.

I'm not the most exuberant party person, which made this experience surprisingly comfortable compared with, say, going to a bar or club. There were only about 15 of us eating together for a few hours, and talk flowed naturally. Since no one really knew each other, everyone was pretty friendly between delicious dining breaks.

Fried tofu in a bowl of mushroom soup and a vegetable medley. Fried tofu in a bowl of mushroom soup and a vegetable medley.

The cuisine itself was quite tasty, though I'm honestly not enough of a foodie to give any real Iron Chef-like assessment. It was certainly a great sampling of Japanese culture.

As I looked around at the other diners, I realized we were also something of a sampling. We came from such diverse backgrounds, and we had just a few hours to get to know each other's strange lives. The meal brought us together to try a new cuisine, but it also brought us together to try out an evening with a completely new set of friends from around the world.

Photos and SlideshowsPhotos and Slideshows

Related Topics: Apps, Drinks, Healthy eating, Travel

My dinner with strangers, thanks to an innovative app
How technology brought a diverse crowd together for a dinner party.