For co-founder Stephanie Lawrence, her disappointment stemmed from a visit to China in 2007. She was not connecting with the local culture, and more importantly, the food, as she had originally intended to. She longed to make dumplings from a Chinese grandmother and wanted other travellers to have these types of experiences she sought, as well.
“I’ve always loved cooking – some of my earliest and best memories are in the kitchen, licking batter out of a mixing bowl or sitting on the counter and eating my grandmother’s homemade meatballs that we made into meatball sandwiches,” Lawrence said.
For co-founder Aashi Vel, it all started with a kitchen in Mexico. During her trip, she found that she was only being recommended to eat at restaurants that were catered to foreigners. The meals were overpriced; the food was lacklustre and she found that she (and her stomach) wanted more afterwards.
“I was in Playa del Carmen, Mexico before starting business school and wished I could eat at the local Mexican woman’s home I passed by and hear her stories instead of at yet another touristy restaurant,” Vel said.
Both Lawrence’s and Vel’s disappointing food experiences abroad became the catalyst for the birth of Traveling Spoon.
In 2011, the two foodies slash entrepreneurs met at Haas School of Business and shared with one another their culinary frustrations while abroad. They began to work on the company every opportunity they had after realizing they both shared a love for authentic food and travel, and in January 2012, they launched their first pilot experience in India. A little over a year later in July 2013, Traveling Spoon was a tangible entity, with more and more hosts joining the community and travellers catching wind of the company.
“We quickly teamed up and when we graduated we realized there was nothing more we would rather be doing than building Traveling Spoon into a successful company that would serve millions of travelers around the world,” Vel said.
Traveling Spoon went from operating in a few countries to almost 40 with multiple cities to choose in each one. They are also constantly expanding their host community around the world and are currently finding and vetting hosts in Europe.
Traveling Spoon is one of the best online platforms tourists hoping for a genuine local experience can utilize. Whether you are wanting to indulge in the spices of India or take on the chillies of Thailand, this platform ensures an authentic and delicious meal with a personally vetted host. You, as the traveller, would go on the Traveling Spoon website. From there, you select the country and city in which you are visiting.
“It’s a personal, private experience in a local home that gives travelers a unique insight into local culture and how people live in different parts of the world,” Vel said. “It gives travelers the chance to communicate with their host over their shared love for food and life in a meaningful way.”
Visitors to the website can then browse through the many host profiles found on the platform. Each host is individually vetted by a member of the Traveling Spoon team. The hosts are a variety of age, sex and are equipped with some sort of culinary expertise, from chefs who studied at top culinary schools to cooks who learned their culinary skills from their grandmother, for example. The sheer variety of profiles makes it difficult to choose just one. After deciding which host you would like to book, you will receive a confirmation email within 24 hours stating whether or not your booking has been confirmed. Then, you go on your experience, eat and enjoy spending time with a local. Think of it like the Airbnb of the culinary world.
“I love cooking classes, but started Traveling Spoon because I wanted to have a more intimate experience,” Lawrence said. “I wanted to learn family recipes passed down through generations. It is so special to be able to go inside someone’s home, sit with them at their kitchen table, and break bread together. Those kinds of experiences make for more empathetic travel that, I think, is so meaningful.”
Hosts offer a number of experiences, including in-home meals, cooking experiences, market tours or all three. The website has even been rolling out some new street food tours, where a local will venture with you to a bustling food market down indiscreet and nontouristic areas of town. Kit and I went on an experience with Aoy in Bangkok, Thailand. Our cooking experience started off with some delicious fried bananas and a scenic boat ride to her very own restaurant on the outskirts of Bangkok. From her quaint, outdoor kitchen, we cooked some of her favourite signature dishes, including yam som-o (pomelo salad), kai khra-chai (fried chicken with herbs), tom kha krauy sai kai (banana coconut soup with galangal) and more. Be sure to check out the entire amazing experience in the video below.
Whether you are a self-proclaimed foodie or simply enjoy a good meal, Traveling Spoon is one of the most innovative and cool platforms to not only fill your stomach but also experience a country’s cuisine in the most authentic way possible.
“The best way to understand a local culture is through food – learning to cook food, understand its history and tradition, and sharing it with others – allows people to connect with one another in a deeper, universal way,” Vel said.
Be sure to check out Traveling Spoon’s hosts in the following destinations on your next holiday!
Viña del Mar
THE UNITED ARAB EMIRATES
Ho Chi Minh City