I know, I know. If you are like me, it seems like it would be something close to excruciating, right? I mean, it is not like I am the greatest conversationalist of all time. But I am doing this thing where I am trying to say “yes” to more things. So I’ll be meeting up for that drink with you soon, @bigboobs88! Until then, I’ve been filling up my time with more food-related activities, like sampling the food tours on offer at withlocals.com, a website that connects diners with local “hosts” who foolishly welcome them to the dinner tables at their very own homes.
Withlocals has hosts in a smattering of Asian locations including Sri Lanka, Vietnam and Nepal, and has recently found some hosts in Thailand. I wanted to go with someone who hadn’t been reviewed before, so I chose Som, a young Thai engineer whose home is on the outskirts of the city. My husband and I weren’t expecting much: Som promised “three sets of food and Thai fruit” for the reasonable sum of 15 euros, making it seem like a quick-turn-of-the-tables kind of evening where we would say our good-byes and I’d make a quick stop at Burger King before heading home.
We were pleasantly surprised by Som’s beautiful house, and when we got into the kitchen to meet Som’s “grandmother” — Som’s very own personal chef, mind you — we felt like Johnny Depp in a scarf store. The “three sets of food” were a delicious nam prik (chili dip) of minced Thai mackerel with all the fixings (Som had asked ahead what I like and I, of course, told her I have a weakness for chili dips), a stir-fry of prawn and vegetables, eggs stir-fried with preserved cabbage and a big steaming vat of freshly made tom yum goong. It’s home-cooked food, but the kind of home-cooked food that Thais make when they have guests over — all served alongside big Mason jars brimming with homemade roselle juice (nam grajieb). Som’s mother and Big Som joined us as well, and at the end of the dinner they served up a big bowl of green mango with nam pla waan (sweet fish sauce augmented with shrimp paste, palm sugar and chilies). Needless to say, we were completely stuffed.
Sometimes people ask me about hosting dinners at my house and, well … I’m too much of a miserable bastard to do it. But spending the evening with Som, her mother and Big Som — people who open their home to others almost nightly — revived my faith in humanity for a little bit. There are lovely people in the world, yinz guys. Not at my house, obviously, but elsewhere, in homes as warm and hospitable as Som’s. If there is anything that “marketplaces” like withlocals shows us, it is this.