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Europe Food Travel

Home Food Italy: Home-Cooked Regional Food for Travelers

June 20, 2012

The best way to discover the secrets of regional cuisine is in a local’s home, where it’s not always accessible to the average traveler. In Italy, however, there’s a shortcut to the dinner table, as freelance writer Jessica Spiegel explains in this guest post.

Duomo di Milano at sunset.
Central Milan

Back-tracking yet again through the narrow, dark streets behind one of central Milan’s many churches, scanning names on doorbells, we were glad we had arrived with time to spare before our appointment. We were both a bit nervous, not knowing what to expect or who else would be there when we finally found the right building, but no matter what else happened we were about to ring a stranger’s doorbell and expect to be served dinner.

In fact, we had paid for the privilege, and—as it turned out—we had nothing to be worried about.

Food-loving travelers know that in most places, while you can get great meals in restaurants, the best food is often the stuff prepared by home cooks—behind closed doors. Those of us who aren’t lucky enough to have a friend in every port can only imagine those home-cooked meals (or stay long enough to make friends who will invite us in), but in Italy there’s an organization that connects welcoming Italian cooks with curious diners. Frankly, it’s such a clever idea, I wonder why it isn’t more common.

Home Food, aka Cesarine, started in Bologna in 2004, is an organization dedicated to preserving traditional Italian dishes. They do this by encouraging home cooks in Italy to make the local and seasonal dishes that are specific to the areas in which they live, and by then inviting other people to experience these meals in the intimate setting of a real Italian home, rather than a restaurant. The cooks who are part of Home Food (they’re called Cesarine) go through a rigorous application and testing process to ensure the dishes they’re preparing are up to Home Food’s standards, and they then submit dates each month when they’re available to host a dinner. Home Food diners can consult the organization’s calendar and register for whatever dinners sound appealing.

Of course, travelers have less flexibility than Italian residents when it comes to signing up for Home Food dinners, in that the calendar of events must also coincide with where they’ll be in Italy at the time. After a few trips when my itinerary and the Home Food calendar were at odds, then, I was giddy when a dinner in Milan appeared during a week I planned to be in the city. My husband and I might have been more nervous about the evening had we known we were the only people who had registered for the dinner—it was November in Milan, a low-tourist month in a city not as popular with visitors as some others—but our hosts turned out to be so delightful we stayed for hours after the meal had ended.

Cesarine menu in Milan.
Cesarine menu. Photo by Madeline Jhawar

 

Nicoletta, our Cesarina, served us a traditional Milanese dish of oss buss (Milanese dialect for osso buco) with gremolada and risotto, a vegetable and egg terrine, and a dessert incorporating Milan’s famous Christmas bread, panettone. A different bottle of regional wine came out with every course, and we finished the meal with a barbajada, an espresso-cocoa drink that dates from 14th-century Milan. Conversation during the evening ranged from Milanese cuisine to traveling in Hawaii to Italian politics—and since we were trying to improve our language skills, we spoke mostly in Italian throughout.

I remember the food and wine to be fantastic, and yet the meal is secondary to my most vivid memories of the experience. Standing in Nicoletta’s kitchen as she stirred the contents of a pot and checked on something in the oven, I couldn’t help but feel I was hovering in a friend’s kitchen, as we all do at dinner parties. We had arrived at the apartment knowing our host’s name and what was on the menu, but within seconds we were handed glasses of wine and made to feel like welcomed friends.

It’s the sort of travel experience you think you can’t buy—except you can. Registering with Home Food is only €3.50 for one month (for non-residents), and then you pay for each dinner, which generally ranges about €30 to €50 per person. My Home Food meal cost less than €40 per person, including wine, a price you can expect to pay in many restaurants for a far less memorable experience.

You may not yet have a friend in Italy who’ll invite you home for dinner, but after attending a Home Food meal you just might.

For further inspiration, check out this video on Home Food Italy:

About the author: Jessica Spiegel is a Portland-based writer (formerly with BootsnAll, the round-the-world travel experts). She’s a devoted Italophile, is fairly convinced she could survive on pizza and gelato alone, and still thinks going to a stranger’s house for dinner constitutes a travel adventure (even if it turns out brilliantly).

Go here for more regional food in Italy.

  • Reply
    Sally
    July 13, 2021 at 2:03 pm

    Is there another site besides homefood you have tried and would recommend? I am planning on going to Italy for a road trip and would love to experience Italian food from a home table.

  • Reply
    Ruben Elewaut
    June 1, 2022 at 6:23 am

    For my project at school of Entrepreneurship my friends and I invented exactly the same service as you mention in this blogpost: to reserve a table at someone’s place and enjoy a decent local food meal (we created it a few months ago, a long time ago before reading your blog). My professor had just one question about the legislation because according to here it’s forbidden in Italy to cook meals for other people and sell it as well (in connection with, among other things, hygiene ). Do you know more of this and if this is true?

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