In 2011, two graduate students met at a university event in the US and instantly connected over a shared love, travelling off the eaten path.
Instead of just chatting the evening away, the duo, both enrolled at the University of California, Berkeley, decided to put their common interest to good use and started The Traveling Spoon (TTS). This website connects travellers with local meals.
“We realised that both of us were passionate about food. And that’s when the idea for the site came up,” says Aashi Vel, the 34-year-old co-founder. Vel had been travelling around Mexico before she met the site's co-founder Stephanie Lawrence. The local Mexican food Vel had on the trip inspired her to share her experience with others. “We started out on Facebook; mostly getting in touch with friends of friends,” she says, adding, “then we launched a pilot programme in December 2012 and sold a few local meals to some of our classmates.”
One of their first such cultural exchange experiences was in Kochi last year, when a group of students feasted on an elaborate eight-course Syrian-Catholic meal during their trip to the backwaters. Since then, the service has been gaining popularity and growing steadily. Vel and Lawrence have booked more than 50 hosts in five countries. “For now, we’re personally whetting the host applicants,” says Lawrence. “We have a checklist of things, which covers aspects like safety and hygiene that they should pass in order to be able to host travellers.” On a trip to India last year, Vel managed to sign nearly 40 hosts in just four weeks.
In addition to the meals, the service aims at offering other experiences such as cooking demos and market visits too. The services will be priced depending on the programme and more details will be put up on the website soon. As of now, safety is a big concern for the girls, and they might even team up with local law enforcement authorities to ensure the same, in the future. “People who travel to offbeat regions tend to be more cautious, but we want to make sure that all our customers have a safe experience,” says Lawrence.
The site is still a work in progress, but it will soon be open to the public. “We’re working on getting funding, smoothing out the nitty-gritties and getting the back-end work sorted,” says Vel.