I enjoy entertaining, bringing people together – especially those from different cultures. I often host events such as JA Café: Travel Talk Over Wine or house parties for local and expat friends. It’s no surprise that I was drawn to the premise of Withlocals.
The online service (also available as an app) connects travelers to local people in Europe and Asia. Hosts share their knowledge and skills, helping visitors experience cities like a local through food and activities. You can book home dinners, food and wine tastings, guided neighborhood walks, shopping and photography outings, family-friendly tours, even day trips. Or you can request a personalized experience.
Mine was a private dinner in Paris. I decided to go with a ‘staycation’ activity as a way to learn more about the city. Despite moving here almost two years ago, I still feel new. Discovering alternative Paris is one of my favorite pursuits.
When I chose French Dinner for Food Lovers, I didn’t know that I would meet neighbors! As it turns out, hosts Inka and Sebastien live near the same metro station as me. They’re just up the street towards the Père Lachaise cemetery (probably the only famous spot in the 20th district), I live the other way in the 11th. Not more than five minutes away.
We communicated through the Withlocals website and made personalized plans. The hosts offered to do either lunch or dinner for two (it was hard to sync our schedules, hence the flexibility), a vegetarian menu for me, and the option to include wine for a small charge. They also asked if their daughters could join if we tried dinner – not a problem!
That evening, I met my friend at the metro station and we went up the winding street, looking for an old building with a wooden façade. Only a block away from a busy road, the area had a country feel: the houses were lower than those near my apartment, some had wild gardens in the back. Once we entered the funky atelier, we felt miles away.
The family greeted us with a drink and appetizers: crusty country bread with vegetable toppings, guacamole, and a gaspacho-style cold soup. A brief tour of the loft followed.
Even though the private dinner listed on Withlocals had ‘French’ in the name, the menu was ecclectic on purpose. The hosts had suggested it earlier, knowing that we were local and perhaps wanted to try something different. “Paris is a gateway,” Inka said. The choice reflected the multiculturalism of the city, in addition to the couple’s Spanish and Caribbean hertitage. But if you want steak frites, that’s what you will get.
As we dug into the appetizers, I knew I was in for a spicy treat (mouth-burning food is not common in France, but something I’m used to from America). The dishes that followed – vegetarian risotto served with a crispy field salad, a large cheese plate to share, and Inka’s rich chocolate fudge – were inspired by products sold at the neighborhood farmer’s market the day before. Besides wine, we were served Sebastien’s flavorful hibiscus infusion. I couldn’t get enough of it and probably should have asked for the recipe.
As the evening went by, we chatted in English, French, and Spanish (a great language exercise for me). The hosts are artists and travelers, so it was easy to find common topics: we talked about our arrondissements, alternative Paris, travel, history, and of course food. Their lovely daughters joined in and helped at the table until it was bedtime.
Three hours went by in a flash, but Inka and I plan to grab coffee in the neighborhood. I also need to visit the market she talked about, since it’s around the corner from my place. How did I not know about it? I guess there’s always something new to learn from others, at home and on the road. That’s why I hope to try another Withlocals experience, once I decide which cities to visit in 2018. Dinner again, perhaps? Homemade food and a good conversation are hard to beat. Especially at a fair price.
Thanks to Withlocals for the experience. All opinions in this post are mine.