“It’s not the rum that makes you drunk, it’s the sugar!” joked Adelia as she mixed us an eyewateringly strong punch from her native Guadaloupe. She scooped out the fresh passionfruit that she’d bought earlier at the market into the glass of rum, cane sugar and freshly squeezed lime and showed us how to swirl our glass to dissolve the sugar in a way that is second nature to anyone from the Caribbean. Our dinner with “Une Vrai Parisienne” was getting off to a good start!
I’d read plenty about the concept of ‘supper clubs’ where locals in a city open their doors to groups of paying guests for a meal or culinary evening – a sort of Air BnB for dining out. When I met Frenchman, Cédric Giorgi at a conference and learned that he was a co-founder of a ‘Dining with Locals’ website called Cookening.com I wanted to try out the concept for myself during our weekend in Paris.
There were many interesting hosts in Paris on the Cookening.com website but I decided to book with Adelia, as her apartment was near our hotel and her profile said that she specialised in French Creole cooking which I thought could bring an interesting perspective on Parisian food. A few messages via the Cookening website later and Voila! here we were sitting in Adelia’s sitting room, chatting like old friends.
Adelia’s apartment overlooking Boulevarde de Montparnasse was quite small which is typical for central Paris. The kitchen was tiny and I thought it’s no wonder that Parisians eat out a lot compared to the English who generally entertain at home. Adelia was originally from Guadaloupe but had moved to Europe in her 20’s to study business and later settled in Paris. We were joined for dinner by her teenage daughter Josephine who came in from a day’s shopping and showed us the outfits she had bought for all her parties at Christmas and New Year.
After plying us with the rum punch Adelia revealed that the strong one was typically drunk by the men, but that the ladies usually preferred the Planter’s Punch she had made with pineapple, orange juice and guava mixed with rum. “How do you tell a Frenchman drinking champagne from a man from Guadaloupe?” Adelia asked us. The answer? A Frenchman will swirl his champagne first to release the ‘nose’ and then sip it, while a man from Guadaloupe will sip first and then swirl the glass as if swirling his rum punch to dissolve the sugar.
We nibbled on some minature meat pastries and also the Caribbean speciality of Boudin Creole – a small fat sausage with a soft filling that was highly spiced with nutmeg, cloves and chilli – a little too spicy for my tastes. To add to the Caribbean flavour, Adelia played us some opera, sung by Fabrice di Falco, a ‘Sopraniste’ with a high warbling voice from Martinique, the next island over to Guadaloupe.
Before long, Adelia’s tiny little dog, Itsy, got loose from the bedroom and started running around wildly, checking out everything we were doing. Josephine showed us the little cage that she’d bought so that he could fly with them on the plane when they went back to Guadaloupe for Christmas. “What breed is he?” we asked. “He’s mixed” replied Adelia laughing with her daughter “just like us!” We talked a bit about the places we had travelled and Adelia told us how her relatives were scattered all over the world, which made for some good holidays. Her uncle had once showed her how Guadaloupe was a tiny speck on the map of the world and advised her to leave if she could. Now the family was scattered all around the globe. “We’re not a family” she joked, “we’re a UNESCO!”.
We moved to the dining table that Adelia had beautifully decorated with a white table cloth, scattered with red leaves and chilli peppers as decoration. Our first course was a rich, creamy crab soup with a pile of fresh crab meat. On Easter Monday in Guadaloupe, all the families go out to the mangroves by the sea to fish for crabs. While eating our soup, Adelia told us about her family in Guadaloupe and her Grandfather who had received five citations from General de Gaule for his bravery in the Second World War.
The conversation moved even further back in history to the topic of slavery in the Caribbean. “In Guadaloupe we call white visitors Les Oreilles” Adelia told us. “We pretend it’s because they can’t understand our language but actually it’s because if a slave escaped and was recaptured, the white masters would cut off their ear.” Many escaped slaves tried to get to Canada where they could live freely but were often pursued for many years afterwards to make an example of them.
We moved onto the main course of chicken with rice and beans served with a delicious sauce of onion, garlic, oil and lime juice which is served over many different dishes in Guadaloupe, such as grilled fish or chicken. They call it Sauce Chien, because its so good that you could eat a dog with it and it would still taste delicious! The people of Guadaloupe don’t have a high a regard for dogs, we learned, as it was the dogs that would be sent out to track down the escaped slaves. In Guadaloupe the ultimate insult is to say that you “lie like a dog” or you’re “lazy like a dog”. But when people joke that the people of the Caribbean are lazy, they retort “We worked for four centuries for free, now we have four centuries to relax!”
After the main course, Adelia’s daughter brought us a refreshing glass of coconut milk followed by our desert of caramalised pineapple with mango ice cream, garnished with a pod of vanilla. The conversation turned to travel plans for 2014 and Adelia recommended another of her favourite islands, Dominica which has rivers, vocanoes and geysers. All too soon the meal and the evening was over and we walked the short distance back to Hotel Pullman Montparnasse where we were staying.
The whole Cookening experience with Adelia was delightful. Not only had we eaten some delicious food but through it we’d explored the whole culture and history of Guadaloupe and the French Caribbean, as well as making new friends of Adelia and Josephine, not to mention Itsy the dog.
Tips for booking a Dining with Locals experience
- When reviewing which host to contact, look at their location as well as the price, as when the evening is over it’s nice to have just a short journey back to your hotel, not a trek from one side of the city to the other. We were really pleased that Adelia’s apartment was within walking distance of our hotel.
- Check whether there are already dinners arranged for the dates you are free as this is more likely to mean to are part of a larger group. If the host is taking a booking just for you then it will probably be a smaller group, perhaps just you and your host.
- Contact your first choice of host and then give them a day or two to respond before contacting other potential hosts. We found that the hosts were very quick to get back to us so there was no need to contact lots of people.
- After your evening don’t forget to leave a review, as this helps other guests to choose a host that’s right for them. On the Cookening website the hosts also leave a review of the guests, you can see what Adelia wrote about me here.
- Check whether the booking fee is included in the advertised price or whether it’s an extra that will be added as you complete your booking.
You can book your ‘Dining with locals’ experience on the Cookening website. There are a large number of Cookening hosts in Paris and also in different locations around France and Europe, offering everything from aperitif, to brunch and dinner. Thanks to Cookening who gave us a voucher to try out the experience.
More fun from our trip to Paris
Our hotel room with a view – Review of Hotel Pullman Paris Montparnasse with video
A Postcard from Notre Dame de Paris
The fresh taste of Paris – our tour of Marche d’Aligre with Viator
25 delicious food tips in Paris – from top bloggers and Paris locals
Our winter weekend in Paris – the food, the sights, the video
You’ll also be subscribed to our free monthly newsletter for great travel resources, news and offers, but you can unsubscribe at any time and we’ll never share your e-mail.
You’ll also find our sister blog with tips on how to build a successful travel blog at My Blogging Journey