On a recent trip to Israel, Fusion’s Jorge Ramos shared two meals through EatWith, a startup that pairs hosts with food enthusiasts for a dinner party among strangers.
The startup gives tourists, especially, a chance to experience home-cooked cuisine. Co-founder Guy Michlin told Fusion in a phone interview that the idea for EatWith came to him while vacationing with his family.
“We were traveling to the island of Crete in Greece,” he said. “For a few days, we found every possible tourist trap on the island.”
Frustrated, Michlin reached out to a local acquaintance and asked for restaurant recommendations. “He invited us to come to a Friday night dinner with his parents. It was the best that happened to us on that trip.”
When Michlin returned home to Tel Aviv, he thought the experience might be attractive to others looking for a home-cooked meal abroad. Michlin and his team launched EatWith in Barcelona in 2012, and have since expanded to more than 150 cities. Now, he says, he doesn’t see EatWith as attractive only to tourists. “In hindsight, it’s not just for travelers. It’s also for locals who want to have a different, more intimate dining experience.”
Diners bond over food and engage in meaningful conversation. Food in the region serves as an important connection between warring people. Doing so through a share economy-focused startup also nods to the country’s booming high-tech industry, and the intense need for connection within regional turmoil.
Over dinner at the home of Keren and Yael, an Israeli couple, conversation turned to politics. Asked Ramos, “Do you think you’ll see peace in your country? You’ve never lived with full peace.” A guest responded, “Eventually.” Another, more skeptical, said “I don’t know.” And another, “It’ll get worse before it gets better.”
The next night, Ramos was hosted by an Arab family in the port city of Jaffa. “Do you find that the Israeli society is very diverse, and tolerant?” Ramos asked. Host Alia’s eldest granddaughter described instances of discrimination she’s faced. “We had an issue with a restaurant two years ago,” she said. “They wouldn’t let us in because we are Arabs…it happened, like, five times.” The discussion turned towards a more personal subject—dating in Israeli-Arab culture.
Michlin also made an unexpected friend through an EatWith meal. “One of the most interesting dinners that happened was in Barcelona. I’m originally from Israel, and there was a girl there from Jordan. In the beginning of the dinner there was tensions between us. She told me at the end of the dinner that I was the first Israeli she had ever met, so she was apprehensive.”
The two ultimately bonded over za’atar, a Middle Easter spice she couldn’t find in Barcelona. “I brought za’atar with me,” Michlin said, “so she actually went after the meal to our community manager to get some of our spices.” They left the dinner as friends.
STATE OF CONFLICT: Jorge Ramos Reporting from Israel and the West Bank will air on Fusion Tuesday, April 28 at 10 p.m.