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Come dine with the Italians

The concept of people throwing dinner parties for strangers has been popular in other countries for a few years now, but the trend is starting to take off in Italy. The Local explores.

Come dine with the Italians
Simona Moreno (C), a BonAppetour host, cooks for her husband and four guests. Photo: BonAppetour

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.

Buon appetito!

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FOOD & DRINK

From spritz to shakerato: Six things to drink in Italy this summer

Summer in Italy means lots of things - trips to the beach, empty cities, strikes, and metro works - but it also ushers in the spritz and negroni season. Here are some of the best drinks to cool down with in Italy this summer.

From spritz to shakerato: Six things to drink in Italy this summer

Spritz

Venice wins all the prizes for being the home of the spritz: the jewel in Italy’s summertime daisy crown and one of the country’s most popular exports.

To first-time customers, the sweet-and-bitter combo can taste unpleasantly like a poisoned alcopop. Stick with it, however, and you’ll soon learn to appreciate this sunset-coloured aperitif, which has come to feel synonymous with summer in Italy.

The most common version is the bright orange Aperol Spritz, but if this starts to feel too sweet once your tastebuds adjust then you can graduate to the dark red Campari Spritz, which has a deeper and more complex flavour profile.

What are the best summer drinks to order in Italy?

Photo by Federica Ariemma/Unsplash.

Negroni

If you’re too cool for the unabashedly flamboyant spritz but want something not too far off flavour-wise, consider the Negroni.

It’s equal parts gin, vermouth and Campari – though if you want a more approachable version, you can order a ‘Negroni sbagliato’ – literally a ‘wrong’ Negroni – which replaces the gin with sweet sparkling Prosecco white wine.

Served with a twist of orange peel and in a low glass, the Negroni closely resembles an Old Fashioned, and is equally as stylish. A traditional Negroni may be stirred, not shaken, but it’s still the kind of cocktail that Bond would surely be happy to be seen sipping.

Crodino

Don’t fancy any alcohol but still crave that bitter, amaro-based aftertaste?

A crodino might be just what you’re after. With its bright orange hue, it both looks and tastes very similar to an Aperol Spritz – so much so that you might initially ask yourself whether you’ve in fact been served the real thing.

Similar in flavour are soft drinks produced by the San Pellegrino brand; bars that don’t have any crodino on hand will often offer you ‘un San Pellegrino’ as a substitute. These drinks are usually available in multiple flavours like blood orange, grapefruit, or prickly pears.

A barman prepares a Campari Spritz cocktail in the historic Campari bar at the entrance of Milan’s Galleria Vittorio Emanuel II shopping mall. Photo by MIGUEL MEDINA / AFP

Chinotto

Much like the crodino, the chinotto is another distinctive bitter Italian aperitivo drink.

With its medium-dark brown colouring, however, the chinotto bears more of a resemblance to Coca Cola than to the spritz, leading to its occasionally being designated as the ‘Italian Coca Cola’.

In reality far less caramelly and much more tart than coke, the chinotto has its detractors, and the fact that we’re having to describe its flavour here means it clearly hasn’t set the world alight since it was first invented in the 1930s (it was subsequently popularised by San Pellegrino, which became its main Italian producer).

If you’re looking for another grown-up tasting alternative to an alcoholic aperitivo, however, the chinotto might just be the place to look.

Bellini

What’s not to love about the bellini?

Its delicate orange and rose-pink tones are reminiscent of a sunset in the same way as a spritz, but with none of the spritz’s complex and contradictory flavours.

A combination of pureed peach and sugary Prosecco wine, the bellini’s thick, creamy texture can almost make it feel smoothie or even dessert-like. It’s a sweet and simple delight, with just a slight kick in the tail to remind you it’s not a soft drink.

Shakerato

Not a fan of drinks of the fruity/citrusy/marinated herby variety?

If caffeine’s more your thing, Italy has an answer for you in the caffe shakerato: an iced coffee drink made with espresso, ice cubes, and sugar or sugar syrup.

That might not sound inspired at first, but hear us out: the three ingredients are vigorously mixed together in a cocktail shaker before the liquid is poured (ice cube-free) into a martini glass, leaving a dark elixir with a delicate caramel coloured foam on top.

You couldn’t look much more elegant drinking an iced coffee than sipping one of these.

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