no one quite does hospitality like an asian – though it’s a compliment oft repeated for italians, Americans from the south, and whichever culture/ breed you belong to – and what better way that to experience it at (their) home, where food is piled high and ever-forthcoming for guests and family alike.
it’s not often we get the chance to peek into someone’s home, much less eat the food that defines their lives – but bonappetour is a new startup trying to blur that line between stranger and friend (or cook, depending on your perspective). run by a group of young friends, the company tries to encourage kitchen-surfing – go to a host’s house, and sit down to a good meal. the premise is simple, the execution uncomplicated, and the food great (though that’s surely dependent on your hosts).
I got lucky with an Indian vegetarian meal at kirit’s house, cooked by his wife and mother (indian men are really lucky in this regard), but I figure you’d be just as satisfied with a dinner with any of the hosts – seeing as how they must be passionate about food, and that very often is matched with some skill in preparation. but, on to the meal!
indian food is a cuisine I enjoy very much – its plentiful use of spices and aromatics a compete turnaround from the more simple flavours favored in chinese cooking – but also one I’m completely ill-equipped to prepare: spices need to be freshly blended (and we’re not talking just one or two), ingredients require dexterous chopping, soaking and pre-prep, and cooking times are long. so when it’s cooked and ready for the eating – I’m a happy camper (though I’m really not a happy camper, if one takes that phrase literally).
we were served what I would like to think of as home-cooking plus plus, which is to say it approximates what they might eat home, but perhaps at a quantity (and possibly, effort) higher than usual. and that’s the point, isn’t it? fine dining belongs in restaurants, and nostalgia/ comfort belongs at home.
from the time we sat down to dinner, food arrived in prodigious quantities – and everything so tasty and beautiful. we started with deseeded stuffed green chillies fried beautifully golden and served alongside a chilli paste more fragrant than fiery (though the heat builds insidiously) and adorable little chickpea fritters that were ephemerally-bound nibbles that crumbled lightly.
puffy puri rounds and fragrant basmati were also on hand to scoop up the curried potato and pea mix (OMG why do carbs taste so good), chopped salad of cucumbers and tomatoes, kidney bean curry, and the coriandered yogurt soup.
it was a mix of exotic flavours and varied textures – and therfore highly eatable – as my trousers would concur – I wish only I didn’t sound like quite such a bumpkin in describing their cuisine (I’m limited only to colonial-style terms, which means essentially everything is a curry).
as an aside, coming to these things also gives you a glimpse into some beautiful houses. kirit happens to be one of those travelers who brings souvenirs back from everywhere and knows how to put it in its right place at home – it’s an admirable skill.
and of course, every good meal is finished with dessert – and LOOK AT THAT. a hot brownie topped with cold ice cream and a chocolate sauce that sizzles on a hot plate – impossible to go wrong with that.
I was so glad when they brought this out – it’s a literal showstopper, and miles better (to me, at least) than a traditional Indian dessert like julab gamun, usually too sweet and rich to finish off a traditional Indian meal.
to be fair, this isn’t really meant to be a review of their cooking – it’s always gratifying and incredibly lucky when you’re invited for dinner at someone’s house, and even to be a guest of their hospitality – but more an indication of what you can find if you’re open to new experiences.
if you’ve tried airbnb, you’ll be familiar with this concept. you book a ticket online with your chosen host, pay much less than you would at a restaurant, and have a fantastic meal and meet new people as well.
it’s a great deal all around. but if you’re female (as I am), and worried about the safety of it – I suggest doing what I’d do with airbnb, which is try to go with a partner, and always make sure someone knows where you are!
great experience, and one well worth repeating (especially since bonappetour has hosts all over the world!).
$$: most meals are less than 50 a person
instagrammin’ at _andmorefood!