The idea of entering a complete stranger's home in a foreign country to eat a home-cooked meal might seem well, foreign, but a whole new sharing economy space based on this idea lets travelers set aside their travel guides and immerse into a foreign culture at the dinner table.
BonAppetour is one such meal-sharing platform, with over 500 hosts in 80 cities around the world and its strongest presence in Italy and France. Meals, barbecues and cooking classes are among the gastronomic experiences found on the platform.
"Several tourists end up travelling to a city without exploring the city's culinary traditions and we want to make it easy for people to discover this by connecting them with the best home chefs and hobby chefs in the city," Rinita Vanjre Ravi, CEO and co-founder of BonAppetour told CNBC in an email interview.
BonAppetour hosts are encouraged to add details such as photos of dishes and dining experience descriptions, and enquire if the guests have special dietary needs. Meal sharing platforms take a service fee, which is a percentage of the meal fee the guest pays to the host. Meals can range from $15 to more than $100.
From traditional Tuscan dinners in Florence to South Indian specialties on a rooftop in Singapore, the dining experiences are varied, with the added touch of hospitality and a closer look into a local's life.
"You get to meet and interact with a lot of people, and you can tell them about our culture and they can share their experiences," said Amrita Singh, host at BonAppetour in Singapore, to CNBC.
While various forms of sharing economies gain traction and disrupt existing sectors, Rob Enderle, president and principle technology analyst at Enderle Group, sees the meal-sharing economy as "a generational thing as younger groups get more comfortable sharing a variety of things" but also "disruptive and complementary" to the tourism and F&B industry.
"[It is] particularly handy if you are visiting a new area, just moved to a new area, or [if you] are very social," said Enderle, but added that watching this new space is important because it could be susceptible to misuse.
Singh said that she was initially intimidated at the prospect of cooking and hosting her first guest.
"I was very, very scared actually, and what if they don't like my food? What if they're rude to me? Then I thought let's get this done, let's have an experience," said Singh.
As with other types of sharing economy platforms like Airbnb or Uber, safety is a big concern for users.
According to Ravi, the BonAppetour team or an ambassador (food or travel blogger) will head down to the host for a 'demo dinner'. Once verified, a green 'Verified Badge' is attached to their host profiles.
Additional measures to ensure safety include verifying the host and guest through phone number confirmations, Facebook and a review system similar to Airbnb, said Jay Savasni, founder of Meal Sharing, to CNBC.
For hosts who wish to err on the side of caution, BonAppetour host Amrita Singh advises that "it is always good to have an emergency contact with you" in case the guest "is not okay or a bit crazy."
Aside from a unique dining experience, meal-sharing platforms also give home chefs and even professional chefs the opportunity to flaunt and test their culinary skills.
"Tons of hosts use Meal Sharing as a way to test our new recipes if they are a chef, or aspiring chefs [who might] want to open a restaurant," said Savasni told CNBC in an email interview.