We glanced at each other as we waited for the elevator door to close in a nondescript apartment building in Adams Morgan. “Are you going to the dinner?” I said tentatively, though I already guessed the answer. “Yes, I think it’s on the sixth floor,” she replied.
We were greeted at the door by one or our two hosts, Jackie, who immediately offered to make us a caipirinha, a Brazilian drink made of cachaça (sugar cane liquor), fresh limes and lots and lots of sugar. While Jackie greeted and chatted up arriving guests—there were about a dozen—Vanessa was cooking up a storm in the open kitchen, over pots of steaming stew, sizzling greens, and cheese pastries.
There’s been a lot of buzz about these sorts of dinners, home cooked meals in a stranger’s house. Bookalokal started in Brussels (IKR) just a year and a half ago and they have recently expanded to DC.
The concept is simple. A host posts a profile and a description of their dinner, members sign up and pay online (most meals cost around $20). And voila. You have dinner plans. But Bookalokal gives you much more than that. It gives you the chance to:
Discover a new cuisine. I’d never had Brazilian food or drinks before, although I have a host of never-before-met relatives living in Brazil. Feijoada is a stew made of beans, pork, and beef. It was served with fresh collard greens and light-as-air traditional cheese buns. Bookalokal hosts come from a variety of backgrounds and include some professional chefs.
Discover a new neighborhood. Okay, so for us, it’s wasn’t really a new neighborhood but rather rediscovering an old favorite. John and I lived in Adams Morgan right after college and it was fun to walk down memory lane. Bookalokal has events in all different parts of the city, including some closer to our neck of the woods.
Get out of your social comfort zone. There is nothing uncool about living in the suburbs, driving three boys around in a minivan, and writing from home in your pajamas. Obviously. But every once in a while, it’s good to get out there and mingle. With other people. That you are not related to. I bonded with a woman who had lived in Eritrea as a teen (I lived in Ethiopia at the same age) and chatted with a woman who had just moved to DC from Haiti, where she worked with refugees.
Plan a trip. While I was sitting on the living room couch getting some excellent tips for my upcoming London trip from a woman who had spent eight years living there, I couldn’t help but overhear a similar conversation going on next to me. My couch neighbor, who has relatives in Portugal, was sharing travel advice with someone who was planning his trip to Lisbon. To say that this group was well-traveled would be an understatement.
Learn a cooking trick or two. I loved that the kitchen was open and I got to watch Vanessa as she prepared our meal. I’m not saying I could replicate it tomorrow—she obviously has a practiced hand—but watching the process makes it at least feasible. I did learn how to make a mean caipirinha.
Bookalokal is a great alternative to a traditional restaurant meal. It’s a cultural experience, from the food to the fellow guests.