Lyon, world capital of gastronomy
Paris is may be the bustling heart of France but Lyon is most certainly it’s big stomach. In a nation filled with gastronomes. Villages, towns and regions which are world renowned for their cuisines and dishes, Lyon stands head, shoulders and stomach above the rest. Since the early 20th century Lyon has held the mantle of gastronomic capital of France. In 1935, the French culinary writers Curnonsky and Marcel E. Grancher, wrote a book called “Lyon, the World Capital of Gastronomy” which put the city firmly on the cultural and foodie map.
Lyon is a strange case of a city. Even though it is the second largest metropolitan area in France (after Pairs), a capital of gastronomy and a very, very pretty city filled with a cultural attractions and even a mini ‘Eiffel’ Tower on the hill of Fourvière.
Lyon: dishes and foods
Among foodies, Lyon is best known for Lyonnaise cuisine and some the foods produced in the region. Delicate dishes such as the heavenly Pike quenelle and soft creamy cheeses such as Saint-Félicien cheese go hand-in-hand with pork, fried pork rinds and every kind of sausages and salamis. Just about anyway you can cook with a pig is produced in Lyon. You could eat pig fat, fried in pig fat. I’ll say that again, pig fat fried in pig fat. You can eat brains, saucisson chaud and Rosette, a large dried salami.
Compared to foods from other regions or the mediterranean coast, Lyonnais cuisine is much heartier and heavier. Even the cities eponymous Salad Lyonnais is a green salad – topped with lardons, croutons, dressing and a poached egg. Less a salad and more a complete meal in one. A salad which will leave you very full!
As you make you way through the cities menu’s you’ll find gratins a plenty and you’ll see them served in a variety of ways. Chicken is another specialty of the area and even something simple and unassuming like chicken legs are prepared in such a way that they become mouthwatering. fantastic, just like in this dish below.
Traditional dishes hailing from Lyon include Coq au vin, thanks to the Bresse chicken, local pork and abundant wines. Some of the other dishes Lyon is famous for giving the world are Quenelle, Lyonnais potatoes and sauce Lyonnais. A few of the dishes I was looking forward to trying when there!
Whilst dinner might cost you a little more, lunch time deals in Lyon are a plenty and you really will have to look twice at the bill after. The lunches we had in Lyon were so reasonably priced, dare I say it even cheap, that I couldn’t believe the prices.
When we arrived in Lyon by train from Grenoble, bags in tow, the first thing we did was to get lunch. When you can get a lunch like this, with a small glass of wine, for just a few Euros a head – well you just can’t go wrong!
Influences and the area
The region is surrounded by countryside and the Lyonnais mountains. The city’s location between Alsace and Lorraine to the north and Provence and the Mediterranean to the south as well as the proximity to the Rhône, Alps and its tradition of mountain cuisine. I felt these competing influences gave rise to the beautiful mix, the salads, the complexity and balance between lightness and heaviness in the cuisine.
The culinary traditions of Lyon stretch back to the import of Florentine cooks to the city in the sixteenth century by Catherine de Medici, of the noble Italian family. Over time these cooks used cuisine, dishes and produce from the surrounding areas, chicken and vegetables from Bresse, wine from Beaujolais and crayfish (so suitable for the Nantua sauce served with Quenelle) from the lac du Nantua.
On on second day in Lyon we visited the archeological museum, close by was a little restaurant, not much to look at from the outside, menus all in French, wonderful. The friendly staff at Le coquemar, serve up some fantastic food. After walking up the Fourvière hill and exploring the stunning basilica we were suitable hungry and decided we needed to refuel before visiting the archeological museum and amphitheatre.
A little ways down the street from the museum we found Le coquemar. From the outside it had what I’d call a typically ‘French’ look about the place but what really attracted us was the menu board with a set lunch at a very reasonable rate.
The chicken leg with lardons, gravy, green beans and Lyonnais potatoes was the daily special and we both wolfed it down. It might not have cost much but it tasted absolutely fantastic. The Bresse chicken and local pork really lift the dish and make it taste elegant, gorgeous.
The Monts du Lyonnais are home to livestock farms which produce the amazing charcuterie you’ll find across the city, just like the bacon lardons which came with our chicken.
Les Bouchons Lyonnais, Lyon restaurants
Les Bouchons Lyonnais. You will see this mark on restaurants across the city. They are the cities specialist restaurants which serve traditional Lyonnais dishes, prepared in the traditional way. Whilst they were Lyon’s traditional restaurants, serving great food in a family atmosphere, long benches and communal tables, today many have become geared up to the small, but growing tourist market.
You could think of the Bouchon as Lyons answer to the tavern. A space for communal dining, camaraderie and gluttony. Originally the Bouchons catered to local silk workers from the mills which made the city wealthy in the 19th century. A lot of the cuisine here will focus on offal and cooked meats, so foolishly (or not) I opted for trying Quenelle when we dined in one. Hana, rather more sensibly, tried some of the wonderful meat. Back when they first opened they were real family affairs, the man of the house presiding over the front of house, keeping the wine topped up whilst his wife was in the kitchen cooking.
Things might have changed somewhat in the past century or more but these eateries do still maintain that familiar atmosphere. I use the word eaterie rather than restaurant as they don’t carry any of the pretence that can accompany a trip to a restaurant in say, Paris.
When we dined in Les Lyonnais Bouchon, a restaurant in Vieux Lyon, it still felt intimate, unpretentious and welcoming. There was just one fellow running the whole front of house taking orders, bringing drinks and food and talking to customers. It isn’t huge and you do have to be prepared to linger, to wait a while whilst most dishes are prepared freshly for you. As with any restaurant in France check for the little Fait Maison symbol (shown to the side) which should be advertised and on the menu next to dishes which are home cooked – i.e not out of a packet.
Thankfully if you’re eating in one of the cities Bouchon Lyonnais it’s more than likely that most if not all the dishes will be prepared on site. Most operate smaller menus with fewer dishes done very well as opposed to a wider smorgasbord of offerings. There are Bouchons and there are Bouchons. Those twenty or so who have been officially awarded the title of a ‘ Bouchon’ are the best to visit – you can find a list here on the Only Lyon tourism site.
We had a three course meal each,starter main and dessert with some wine to boot. The unfortunate things was both our smarphones, aka our camera’s were low on battery so I only got a few photos. I started with some gorgeous pate and a simple salad.
Hana started with some of Lyon’s fantastic sausage, again served with a simple side salad.
Whilst Hana went on to have some beautifully prepared pork with vegetables.
As I mentioned I ordered the Quenelle, served with rice drizzled with a little sauce.
When we dined in Les Lyonnais Bouchon in Vieux Lyon, it still felt intimate, unpretentious and welcoming. There was just one fellow running the whole front of house taking orders, bringing drinks and food and talking to customers. It isn’t huge and you do have to be prepared to linger, to wait a while whilst most dishes are prepared freshly for you. As with any restaurant in France check for the little Fait Maison symbol (shown to the side) which should be advertised and on the menu next to dishes which are home cooked – i.e not out of a packet.
Les Lyonnais Bouchon sits at the bottom of the Fourvière hill, right in the centre of the old part of Lyon. This is a really wonderful part of Lyon to simply get lost in as you go for a wander and I really recommend taking some time during your trip to walk around these beautiful old streets.
Lyon is one of the prettiest cities in France and whilst it is a crying shame that more tourists don’t visit, if you do you’ll be more than spoilt. Lyon is a quiet yet active and beautiful city with a lot of space and some of the best, most fantastic food you will ever have.