It was with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity that I ventured to San Giovanni, a neighbourhood in Rome, on a cold February night.
Apart from the friend I’d brought along, I was about to dine with four strangers at the home of an Italian family.
We arrived late, Italian-style, and were immediately greeted with a glass of prosecco while being introduced to the others.
Simona Moreno, the host, has signed herself up to what has been widely referred to elsewhere in the world as a “supper club”.
Websites like the hugely successful AirBnb, which provides a marketplace for people to rent out spare rooms or their entire home, have drastically altered where people stay when they travel.
Now others are trying to replicate that model when it comes to eating while travelling.
The concept has been brought to Italy by the Singapore-based online company, BonAppetour. The idea came together when co-founders Rinita Vanjre Ravi and Inez Wihardjo were backpacking around Europe.
“We often found ourselves at a loss when deciding which restaurants to dine in, or even what to order at the restaurants, and ended up ordering familiar dishes,” Ravi tells The Local.
“We were inspired by services like Airbnb, which really allow a traveller to experience living in a local home, and that inspired us to create a platform that could link travellers up with local hosts and families for authentic dining experiences.”
Moreno grew up in Naples as part of a large, traditional family, where cooking and eating together at a leisurely pace – and at home – was the norm.
It is therefore no surprise that she picked up her passion and skills for cooking by watching her grand-mother and mother in the kitchen.
Until she had her son, Moreno worked for an environmental research company, but then decided she could combine motherhood and cooking, while earning an income.
“I love cooking and meeting people, so this is not like work to me,” she tells The Local.
Most of her dishes are traditional to Naples and the Campania region. On the night I attended, we ate a four-course meal, accompanied by plenty of wine and a post-meal Limoncello.
Conversation also flowed easily throughout the evening, and we were made to feel at home.
With its world-famous food culture, Italy was an obvious place for BonAppetour to start its venture in Europe, Ravi says.
Along with Rome, the company now connects hosts with diners in Florence, Bologna, Milan, Venice, Turin, Naples and Palermo. France, Sweden, Spain, The Netherlands, Switzerland and the UK soon followed.
As for how it works: when a host organizes a dinner party, they post an announcement on the BonAppetour website, with details of timing, menu and price. The cost of the meal is paid online.
There are now between 150 and 200 hosts in Italy. They are vetted beforehand, while diners can leave post-meal reviews on the site. Some of the hosts, including Moreno, also give cooking classes.
“We have received an incredible response and enthusiasm from hosts in Italy,” Ravi adds.
“They feel that it's one of the best ways to showcase their culture and cuisine to the rest of the world.”
Whether you’re travelling in Italy or living here, it’s a great way to sample Italian food that goes beyond the tourist menus, while experiencing the culture and making new friends.
To find out where the dinner parties are happening, go to www.bonappetour.com.