Finding Home-Cooked Food in Italy
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For many people, the search for memorable food experiences is a driving force when traveling. We search for things to eat that will tell us about a place; we want to be able to recall minute details of meals when we reminisce about our trip. Being in Italy can commonly transform travelers who ordinarily don’t fancy themselves “food-lovers” into people who gush over a certain flavor of gelato they got on a side street in Siena. Flying to Italy is to arrive in a culinary promised land.
One thing that makes Italy even more of a gastronome’s paradise is the existence of the Home Food program, designed to not only preserve, but also to share traditional Italian recipes. I'll forgive you for glossing over the whole "preserving culinary history" bit if you’d rather focus on the part where Home Food gives travelers the chance to dine in real Italian homes.
Home Food, founded in Bologna in 2004, is a network of home cooks called "Cesarine" who have each been vetted by the organization to make sure they're going to be serving only dishes that are regional and seasonal. These Cesarine then open their homes a few times each year to Home Food members, cooking up a feast of local specialties. They’re not just stuck cooking in the kitchen — they dine with their Home Food guests at the family table, so you really feel as if you've been invited over to a friend's house for dinner. (Photo courtesy of Home Food)
Membership in Home Food is open to Italian residents and foreigners, and the good news for anyone traveling in Italy is that a short-term membership of a month is extremely cheap — €3.50 per person (Italian residents pay €35/year). Participants then pay for individual meals (lunch or dinner), which usually range in price from €30-50 per person, which includes not only the food but all wine and beverages served.
While Home Food is open to Italians and non-Italians, it does seem that the majority of members come from the United States. Being fluent in Italian surely isn't a requirement for attending a dinner, but neither is speaking English in order to become a Cesarina. So diners should bring a sense of linguistic adventure — and a good phrase book — just in case.
Anyone reading this and thinking, "Why would I pay someone to cook for me in an Italian home? I'll just have zio Angelo or my friend Nicoletta make dinner for me the next time I visit Italy," should just remember that there are some of us without friends or family in Italy. I won’t go into how envious I am of these people.
Certainly if you're lucky enough to make friends with someone during your Italian vacation who invites you home for dinner, you should accept readily — don't let those culinary opportunities pass by. For the vast majority of food-obsessed travelers who would love the chance to eat a home-cooked meal in an Italian home — there's Home Food. (Photo courtesy of Home Food)
And I can't recommend it highly enough.
To take part in a Home Food dinner on your next Italy trip:
- Fill out the form to "become a User Partner" on this page. You'll get a reply once your application has been accepted, at which point you'll need to pay (via PayPal) the €3.50 per person for the month you specify for your trip. Note that each person will get his/her own registration card, so you'll need to supply Home Food with each name of the people who are registering.
- Consult the Home Food calendar (they send out emails with the calendar, but it's not exactly like clockwork, so it's easier to just check the website).
- When you find a lunch/dinner you want to attend, make sure that there are still seats available and — if there are — click on the "Booking" tab under that location's images and then make sure you're choosing the correct date. Click the link that says "To participate in the Event."
- Fill out the form, which is pre-populated with the information for the specific dinner you chose, including the names of the people going to the dinner, any food allergies, and your PayPal information.
- You'll get all the registration information via email, including how to reach the dinner and what time to arrive (they stress the importance of being punctual!), and the Home Food people tend to be really good about replying to emails if you have questions.
About the Author:Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based travel writer for the BootsnAll Travel Network, for whom she writes the WhyGo Italy travel guide. She's been traveling to Italy for more than a decade, and she continues to find new reasons to fall in love with the country (and its food) on every trip.
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