On vacation in the Yucatan, Aashi Vel spied a captivating scene through a window. In a tiny kitchen, a woman was preparing a colorful feast. It was a lightbulb moment for Vel, a tireless traveler: how could she share authentic food and culture with locals? In business school, she met Steph Lawrence, who shared the same passion, and Traveling Spoon was born.
The idea is brilliantly simple: Travelers choose a destination by completing a detailed online form. Based on their tastes, Traveling Spoon connects them with a vetted host in the company’s vast network. Prices start at $20 per traveler for a home-cooked meal, or a class and meal—and open-arms hospitality—on the road. The experience goes beyond dining, Vel says: “Sharing food allows people to open up about themselves and learn from each other.”
Traveling Spoon is especially appealing for vegetarians journeying to destinations where dining can get tricky. When you register for the service, a “dietary restrictions” field allows you to specify “vegetarian” or “vegan.” If a vegetarian host isn’t available where you’re traveling, Traveling Spoon ensures meals get tailored to your profile.
On a visit to Kochi, India, Ronna Kelly’s hosts prepared extra veg dishes for her. “We had the most delicious meal of the trip,” Kelly says. “But we also learned nuances about India that we didn’t get from guidebooks.”
After expanding across Asia, Traveling Spoon hopes to go global. And if the success of sites like Airbnb is any sign, Traveling Spoon will be making many future meal matches.
Griddle Me This
A vegetarian specialty from the kitchen of Durga Gopalan—who’s welcomed Traveling Spoon guests into her Chennai, India, home (and whose veg-tastic feast is pictured above)—is the South Indian pancake known as adai. Gopalan describes the regional staple as a “mixed-lentil-and-rice pancake cooked on a griddle and spiced with dry red chiles, grated ginger, and curry leaves,” adding: “Our personal touch is to add the tender iron-rich leaves of the moringa tree from my garden just before pouring out the pancakes.” Gopalan serves the protein-packed pancakes with homemade gravies and chutney.
By Michael Kaminer