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Attending a Home Food Dinner in Milan

homefoodI’ve long wanted to try a Home Food dinner, but during my past trips to Italy it never worked out – I was never in one of the cities hosting a dinner during my time in the country. When planning last month’s trip to Milan, however, I reasoned that with a week in the city there just had to be a Home Food dinner in Milan (or nearby) that we could attend. As luck would have it, there was.

If you’re unfamiliar with Home Food, read my post about the organization (written back when I was salivating over just the idea) for more details, including how to sign up. The gist of it is that Italians who are approved by the people who run Home Food invite strangers into their homes and serve meals which are traditional to that city or region, using seasonal and regional ingredients. The whole thing has sounded brilliant to me since I first heard about it, and I was thrilled to find an event right in Milan during my trip in November.

The Home Food meal I signed the husband I up for in Milan was in the home of a young Italian couple in an historic section of the city a short walk from the Duomo. Nicoletta (the cook) and Nicola (her husband) live in what’s described as an attic apartment, but although the street outside was quite dark their cozy home is nothing like what you’d imagine an attic to be. It’s been completely redone inside, and one whole wall running the length of the apartment is lined with built-in bookshevles. Nicoletta and Nicola are avid travelers, and several guidebooks were pulled from those shelves during dinner.

While both of our hosts speak English, we were still trying to practice our Italian as much as possible, so we spoke Italian during about 90% of the three-hour meal. It turned out that we were the only people who had reserved seats at this particular event, so instead of a big dinner party it felt like an intimate dinner among friends. Nicoletta had prepared a traditional Milanese dish of “oss bus,” or braised veal slices, with a “gremolada” sauce over the top. The sauce consisted of lemon peel, garlic and parsley, and the whole dish was divine. White risotto was served alongside the veal, and although I was plenty full after that first course, there was much more to come.

The second course was listed in our menus (thoughtfully printed up for guests by each host) as a “terrine of vegetables,” and the closest thing I can think of to what it was like would be a vegetable quiche. It was brought to the table in a loaf form and slices were dished up to each of us. It was very eggy, and rich, but not heavy. The dessert for the evening was typical to the time of year – being near Christmas, it incorporated the traditional Christmas bread, panettone, which formed the crust surrounding and holding in the (heavily alcohol-infused) custard in the center.

After the meal (each course of which had been accompanied by a delicious bottle of local wine), we were each served what’s known as a “barbajada” (pronounced like bar-ba-YA-da), which is a shot of espresso mixed with a splash of cream and cocoa, and which dates from the 14th century in Milan. You can read more details about the entire meal we had here.

The meal itself was long, but the evening was made much longer by the fact that we so enjoyed Nicoletta and Nicola’s company, that we talked and talked and talked. Nicoletta told us about the process of becoming a Cesarina, and how the vast majority of the people who go to Home Food dinners are Americans. Nicola and the husband talked politics. We all talked about how much we love to travel, and about the places we’ve been. We ended the night with two new friends in Milan, and very much hope to see them again on a return trip to the city.

Now, I don’t think each Home Food night will end with hugs between guests and hosts, or with the exchanges of email addresses, and I feel extremely lucky that our evening with Nicoletta and Nicola was as magical as it turned out to be. And now, after experiencing a Home Food event, I’m even more excited about doing another one.

For more basic information, see my post about Home Food. To see the upcoming calendar and register for an event, see the official Home Food website.

A few notes about registering for a Home Food event:

  • Italians who want to join the organization have to pay an annual fee, but foreigners need only pay for a month at a time, and it’s extremely inexpensive – at the moment it’s€7 per person for a month. If you can attend more than one dinner in that month, you’re really getting that membership fee’s worth, but even if you only attend one it’s well worth it for foodies. You’ll pay an additional fee for each dinner you attend, but it’s well within reason for a nice meal out. Prices for meals vary from event to event, and are clearly listed on the website.
  • You’ll need to fill out a couple of registration forms to sign up, but you can fill them out offline (using Word) and send them in via email. I can’t say enough about how quick to respond the Home Food staff were; they make it so easy to get through the process, even with no Italian skills at all you’ll be fine.
  • I paid via PayPal, and once the payment was receieved by Home Food they wanted an address where they could send my paperwork. I was able to give them the address of our Milan hotel, but if you will be traveling extensively and not in one place long enough to receive anything, you can also receive the “paperwork” via email and print it out for yourself. Generally speaking, the calendar isn’t online with enough advance notice to make it possible to receive the paperwork at your home address, but you can always ask about that, too.
  • Among the things you’ll receive in the paperwork packet are your membership card with valid dates (though our hosts didn’t require that we show our cards), receipts for payment and directions to the Home Food host’s home.
  • It’s stressed throughout the registration process, and bears repeating – it’s very important to respect your hosts by arriving on time and being a good guest. In order to make sure we would arrive on time we left early and found the apartment before taking a moonlit walk around the Duomo. When we headed back, it was right on time and we weren’t stuck making wrong turns or looking at the map.
  • Bringing a gift to the host isn’t necessary, and isn’t even listed as a “recommendation” anywhere, but we opted to bring a small gift from home (a jam made from berries only grown in Oregon). If you don’t want to haul something from home with you but don’t want to arrive empty-handed, consider bringing a bouquet of flowers. I think bringing wine to an Italian’s house is too risky, personally, but if you have a good recommendation for a bottle that can also be a nice gift.
  • While most Home Food guests come from the United States, and one would assume therefore that most Home Food hosts speak at least a little English, it’s only polite to learn a few phrases and words in Italian. Mastering the art of saying “that’s delicious” in a few different ways is a great place to start!