EatWith in Budapest
Wouldn’t it be cool to go to a new city and get invited to a dinner party? Where you could meet interesting people and be fed by locals? I think it’s a great concept.
I first heard about it a month ago while watching CNN in a hotel room in Mexico City.
The principle is borne of the same concept as Airbnb, the idea being to bridge the gap between travellers and locals. In this case the feature was on EatWith. It’s pretty simple. Through Eatwith, you can pay to be invited to dinner parties in about 150 cities around the world. You sign up with their site, browse the city you’ll be in, and see what dinners/dates are available. If you find a dinner you are interested in you just write the host and tell them that you’d be interested in coming (the average cost of a dinner is $40 US). They’ll confirm the time and the place and you just show up. In the feature, the CNN cameras follow the young journalist as he shows up at the home (New York in this case), interviews the host (EatWith hosts are real chefs), and then mingles with the 6 or 7 guests that had come to attend the dinner. They were from all walks of life, most in their late-20s to mid-30’s, and all travellers who wanted the unique experience of meeting strangers in a foreign city. It looked like a great time and by the end of the evening people had exchanged telephone numbers and made new friends.
This was something Lissette and I were very interested in experiencing. One of the toughest things when arriving somewhere is getting to know people and feeling comfortable with your new surroundings. We hoped a dining experience with locals would be a pleasant introduction to our new temporary home: Budapest.
Our Eatwith experience
Booking: We found out that there is only one local host in Budapest. There was no event planned for the weekend that we wanted. At least 3 people were required to have a dinner with Balazs (our host). A few days later he wrote back. Somebody else was interested. The event was planned for the following weekend. At that point we confirmed our attendance on the website and paid ($46 US each).
The Dining Experience: There are always some anxious moments when you show up at a stranger’s house for dinner. That dissipated quickly. We were 6: The hosts (Balazs and his girlfriend Eszter), Balaz’s young son (Will), a young Brazilian guest (Rafaela), and Lissette and I. The ice was quickly broken when 10-year old Will came up to me and, very formally and with a British accent, “Sir, may I ask you a question?” “Of course you may” I answered. He proceeded to ask me all about Maple Syrup, something his class had covered on their studies on Canada (he goes to private school in London).
Balazs offered us Pálinka, Hungary’s traditional fruit brandy that is often served as both an aperitif and digestive. Nice. He showed us around the home, highlighting the rooftop balcony where they grow their own fruits and herbs.
Soon we were sitting around the table.
Appetizers: Old style bread, with freshly made pesto, a liver pâté, and some pickled onions and pickles. Served with rosé wine. All very good.
Entrée: Cold cucumber soup. Excellent.
Conversation flowed well, Will and Rafaela leading the way.
Main Course: Stuffed Paprika (very similar to a red bell pepper except with maybe a bit more bite) served with rice and/or mashed potatoes. Lissette doesn’t eat meat so her Paprika was stuffed with Ricotta cheese and vegetables. Everyone else’s Paprika was stuffed with a mix of beef, pork, and vegetables. Not at all heavy, the flavours accentuating more the pepper itself than the fillings. Very good and served with red wine from the local market.
Dessert: cottage cheese dumplings with sour cream and powdered sugar. The Dumplings were made on the spot by Will and fried by Balazs. Easy to make and very good.
By the time we finished desert it was 10:30 and 3 hours had passed by. Conversation had flowed well. It was time to go. Along with Rafaela, we said our goodbyes and departed.
Summarizing our feelings about the Eatwith experience
We have mixed feelings about our experience with EatWith, most not having anything to do with the dinner itself.
The dinner itself was very good. It was simple, fresh and all healthy (except the dessert which we’ll have to work off). The wines were simple but good. We wanted typical Hungarian cuisine without the pretense. We got that. No complaints whatsoever, we really enjoyed it.
The atmosphere was relaxed and pleasant. You’re always afraid at events like this that there might be a jerk in the room. Nobody can control something like that, it’s part of the game when you sign up for dinner at a stranger’s house. But no, everyone was very nice.
Did we feel that we learned much about Hungary, Budapest, or Hungarian culture? Not as much as we wanted. Again, the thing about dining as a group is that conversation tends to go in different directions. I sometimes felt that questions I had got lost or, at times, were only partially answered.
Our major objection to using EatWith again
Simple. It’s the pricing.
In a recent post I wrote about how much we used Airbnb last year. Airbnb is great because it is a cheaper, more flexible alternative to hotels. Airbnb has done a great job bridging the gap between the traveller and locals. Travellers save money, locals make money. It works for everyone (except hotels).
Our EatWith experience cost $92 US between the two of us, $126 CAD when it showed up on my credit card. That’s a lot of money in Budapest. Just to put it in perspective, we paid about $100 CAD for a 3-course meal with wine and digestives when we went to this restaurant (currently ranked #6 of restaurants in Budapest on Trip Advisor).
We love the idea of eating with locals. Food is always an issue when travelling and meeting people is for us is the greatest part of travelling. The concept of companies like EatWith, WithLocals and others is great. How can it not be?
But there’s something wrong when it costs less to eat at a good restaurant than it does at a local’s house. It defeats the whole purpose. I don’t know how pricing is set, whether it’s EatWith or the host. At one point in the evening, Balazs mentioned that there used to be 5 hosts in Budapest working with EatWith. Now they are the only ones. Why? He didn’t know. But I have a pretty good idea. If it’s costing me more money to go eat at a local’s house than at a restaurant I won’t go. And if you’re a local and people don’t come, you won’t make money. And you’re going to stop offering the service. It’s a volume-driven business and you won’t make money when you have one host, in a touristy city like Budapest, who can barely scratch up 3 guests for by-weekly dinners. It’s a great concept, but I think the marketing strategy has to be tweaked if it is to be successful. I hope they fix it, because eating with locals is something we would love to spend more time doing.
Have you eaten with EatWith, WithLocals or any other site connecting travellers to locals? Would love to hear your experiences.
Ps. Enjoy our blog? If so please consider using our links to book your flights, hotels, tours, and car rentals. Have a look at our Travel Resources page