If you’ve done much traveling around the world, you know that it can be frustrating sometimes to feel like a tourist, when what you’d really like to do is experience life as the locals live it.
I recently wrote about one local startup anxious to help you discover off-the-grid experiences overseas, AnyRoad, and now there is another with a different slant – helping you enjoy home-cooked meals cooked by locals known to be among the best chefs in their communities.
Traveling Spoon is the brainchild of co-founders Stephanie Lawrence and Aashi Vel, who met at the U-C Berkeley Haas School of Business in 2011 and soon came up with the idea of connecting travelers who are passionate about local food with host chefs in places like India, Thailand and Vietnam.
Over the past year, while building their platform, Lawrence and Vel traveled to those three countries and dozens of others, signing up some 55 hosts. Then they signed up beta testers, many of them former schoolmates, who have traveled to the cities and towns where the hosts live.
The most common reaction? “That was my best meal experience ever.”
The company has just launched into public beta, with hosts operating in 14 cities in India, Vietnam and Thailand. Most of the hosts are females, often older women well known in their communities for their cooking skills. There are also some mother-daughter teams.
“Operationally we need hosts who have access to the Internet and speak at least some English,” explains Lawrence. “So they are mainly middle class people for now.”
But among Traveling Spoon’s goals in the future is to extend the service to poorer hosts in villages, where a social enterprise aspect of this company will unfold.
The company’s tagline – “eat off the eaten path” – resonates with people who travel a lot. While it is not difficult to get good food in most cities around the world, it’s not always possible to access authentic local cuisine made with traditional ingredients in styles less familiar to most Westerners.
For that kind of culinary experience, you have to push beyond the well-established bubble that is global tourism.
The way Traveling Spoon works is you pay for the meal ahead of time, and schedule your visit (given the vagaries of travel, there is some flexibility built into when your actual visit will occur.)
There is also insurance and a 48-hour cancellation policy. Traveling Spoon pays the host after the visit has been successfully concluded. The typical meal costs from $40 up to $120 for special packages, including trips to local markets as the host buys ingredients, cooking lessons, local transportation, and other perks.
The bootstrapped company of two is located in the Mission. A kickstarter campaign is planned soon.