Despite what you read in travel memoirs it’s not that easy to get invited into locals’ homes for dinner, and it has only happened to us a handful of times during our years on the road. So we were excited to be invited to try out a new service called With Locals which is like Airbnb for eating out.
With Locals connects travellers with local people who offer meals in their homes, or other activities to help you get to know a place like a local. They offer everything from cooking classes, street food walks, and photography tours, to vintage shopping trips, bike rides, and even a “Become Spiderman” parkour experience. It’s a fantastic way to meet local people, have a unique experience beyond the tourist sites, and provide an income for locals.
With Locals is only available in Asia at the moment, and Singapore was the ideal place for us to try it as we were keen to learn more about the food culture of the city that lives to eat.
How With Locals Works
Using With Locals was easy. I signed in with Facebook and chose Singapore from the drop down list. You can scroll through the opportunities or do a more detailed search by location, date, duration, or price. I chose the “Eat with Locals” experiences, but you can also look at tours and activities.
Kirit’s listing Gopi’s Khazana: Homely Vegetarian Delicacies stood out to me as the Indian Gujurati family offer vegetarian meals, and we loved the food in Gujurat. It was reasonably priced considering the high cost of eating in restaurants in Singapore—18 euros (US$24.50) per person.
The booking process was simple. I chose the date, number of people, and paid using Paypal. You can also make special requests about the type of food you’d like to eat. A few hours later we received confirmation and a message from Kirit. His address and contact details were listed in “Your bookings”, and we exchanged a few more messages before the dinner.
You might be worried about the safety of turning up at a stranger’s house but all the hosts have been verified. Someone from With Locals has a meal with the family before they are listed to guarantee the quality.
The With Locals Experience
The house was on the other side of Singapore from where we were staying, but with the city’s efficient public transport system we were able to take an uncrowded, inexpensive bus almost door to door.
Kirit and his family live in a beautiful house in a quiet, wealthy suburb near East Coast Park. We were expecting just Kirit and his wife Falguni so were a little surprised to be welcomed by his parents and sister who all live together.
We started with a drink in the living room and got to know each other. Kirit, a management consultant, and his father Vijay, a car salesman, are both Singapore natives while their wives come from Gujurat, so we knew we’d be experiencing authentic Indian home cooking. The family were very friendly and welcoming, keen to make us feel at home, and asked us lots of questions about our travelling lifestyle.
When we moved on to dinner we ate with Kirit and Falguni while his parents Vijay and Himanshi served us a 10 dish feast.
We began with a yoghurt lassi drink and our first starter—dhokla, soft spongy squares made from gram flour topped with spices and herbs, and served with a heavenly spicy tomato chile chutney. They were absolutely delicious and not a dish we’d ever tried before—this was real home cooking, not something you’d find in a restaurant.
Our second starter was just as good—chile pakora, deep fried whole chiles in a masala batter that was light and nicely spiced.
Vijay kept bringing us more food and encouraging us to eat, and we had to remind ourselves that this was just the first course!
As we ate we chatted about travel and life in Singapore, including the expense of buying cars here. You need a licence that costs as much as the car, so car ownership is prohibitively expensive for many people. This has had the effect of limiting traffic and the public transport system is so good that you don’t really need a car.
Our main course arrived: fenugreek kofta (balls) in a mixed vegetable curry which we scooped up with puri, puffed up deep fried breads that were not greasy or heavy as you might expect, but light and very moreish.
The food just kept coming—tomato and herb salad, mango pickle, pilau rice, and kadhi, a yoghurt soup that was a revelation. I’m not even a yoghurt fan but I loved this unusual dish that was light and delicately spiced. We ate it on its own or poured over the rice.
It was all so good that I wanted to know how to make it myself, and Falguni and Himanshi said that they were thinking about offering cooking classes. The beauty of With Locals is that they easily can.
The meal ended on a sweet note with their speciality, not an Indian dish but so tasty that we weren’t complaining—chocolate brownie and ice cream served with chocolate sauce on a hot plate, creating a cloud of steam and a bubbly gooey sauce. Amazing!
We were treated to a real feast by the family, and it felt wonderful to be spoiled with home cooking, something we often miss on our travels.
We had a fantastic With Locals experience and couldn’t have asked for a better meal or warmer welcome from Kirit and his family. With Locals is still a new service though and we can suggest a few improvements to the site.
- It would be great to see more details about hosts and the dinner on the host’s profile. More information about their interests and a sample menu would make it easier for users to choose a host.
- Although we received the host’s address when our booking was confirmed, I’d like to know the area before I book, to avoid booking places that are too far to reach easily.
- It would be handy to be able to search for hosts that offer vegetarian meals.
These are only small things though and in general we found the site very easy to use. With Locals is only going to improve as it grows in popularity with more hosts signing up, and more guests leaving reviews.
We were a little nervous about turning up at a stranger’s house for dinner, but our With Locals meal turned out to be our most interesting, memorable, and delicious experience in Singapore. With Locals is a great way to meet local people, learn more about the culture, and enjoy food that you can’t find in restaurants. For travellers looking for a unique experience, or just in need of a good home-cooked meal, we highly recommend it.
Many thanks to Withlocals who invited us to try their Eat Withlocals experience and supported this article.
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