Monday, 14 September 2015

A Different Dinner in Madrid: Dining Withlocals

There's a huge emphasis on 'eating authentic' while travelling. Although we all know you're unlikely to be served home-cooking as grandma intended anywhere which uses photos on its menu, wading through the selection of restaurants in a city can be daunting. And if you want to sample real cuisine as the locals eat it, the best way is obviously to dine with them, at home. But last time I checked, securing an invitation to a stranger's house for a slap-up meal was no mean feat (not to mention risky).

Step in Withlocals. Already hugely successful in Asia, the peer-to-peer site launched earlier this year in Spain. Locals who enjoy meeting travellers and showcasing their regional cuisine can offer themselves as hosts, providing different types of dining experience in their homes. Tourists who are keen to sample real home cooking and meet residents can browse and book experiences via the website. All hosts are thoroughly vetted by Withlocals and previous diners leave reviews, so you can be sure you're booking a genuine experience. Hosts set their own prices, which are reasonable and cheaper than a similar meal in a restaurant - with local knowledge thrown in.

Although I've been to a few supper clubs in England, I'd never tried home dining, so I was curious as my friend and I trotted off to our chosen experience. We'd booked dinner at David's flat in La Elipa, where he offered a choice of a tapas menu or gazpacho and paella according to guests' preferences (and dietary requirements), all arranged in advance by email. As an adopted española, I'm well aware that eating arroz in the evening is almost sacrilegious, but I was willing to give it a go because not only would David serve us dinner, we'd also learn to cook it.

Paella preparation

I can't deny than turning up at a stranger's door was a bit daunting, but David was just as friendly as his emails, and before long we were in the kitchen 'helping' him prepare gazpacho, Spain's most famous cold soup. David's take had a twist: he added beetroot for a change from the traditional tomato flavour. We followed along with the recipe sheets he'd given us to take home, ably assisting with a bit of chopping. As we prepared the starter, David explained that he'd signed up as a Withlocals host after trying a similar experience in India and enjoyed the concept of trying home-cooked food and meeting local residents. Next up came the paella preparation: David's originally from the coastal region of Murcia, and used a family recipe to create a seafood rice. He told us that stock is the key to a good paella, which he prepared with fish stock combined with leftover liquid from cooking the mussels and frying the prawn heads. Sounds grim, but tasted good. In addition to prawns and mussels, David's paella featured squid, red pepper, tomato, garlic and peas. The seafood was purchased from the local market that day, giving it a gorgeous freshness - no rubbery squid here. True to his roots, David used rice from Murcia, explaining the importance of using a round-grain rice for paella as it absorbs more water. 

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