Lyon : a city of gastronomy

One of Lyon’s most famous traditions is undoubtedly its gastronomy. Since 1935 and thanks to Curnonsky, famous food critic, the city bears the title of “world capital of gastronomy”. From the 19th century, when you come to Lyon, you want to “eat”: first with the Mothers, those excellent cooks who have helped make Lyon cuisine a real institution; today in the “bouchons“, these typical restaurants where you are served, in the conviviality, these dishes so typically Lyonnais, that we like… or not… The history of the gastronomy of Lyon has long been characterised by these two trends: the first from bourgeois tradition, the second from popular culture. But today, even though Lyon has managed to preserve and promote its traditions, the gastronomic landscape of Lyon is diversifying and opening itself up to new trends.

Les Bouchons Lyonnais

Any visitor who comes to Lyon wishes to eat in a “Bouchon”. A great symbol of Lyon’s gastronomy, the “bouchon” comes from the tradition of “mâchons” established by the “canuts”, silk workers. Associated with Guignol and Gnafron, it offers simple dishes, composed mainly of pork and all generously washed down with Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône.

If nowadays the “Bouchon” is a restaurant where you can taste Lyon specialties, originally the term refers to a place where you can “mâchonner” (chew). In the 19th century, the canuts, who started their day very early, organized a sort of “snack” around 9 or 10 am: The “mâchons”, strictly speaking, is not a meal, but a snack, often made up of leftovers from the day before and taken outside of traditional restaurants, in a bistro, a wine merchant, at the restaurant or at workshop of the canuts. Shared between men, they were often a pretext for discussing business between the various players in the silk industry.

“Mâchons” can be considered to have definitely become part of the Lyon tradition when the Halles de Lyon was founded in Les Cordeliers (at the site of the current Cordeliers car park). Since the 19th century, the organization of work has evolved, but the “mâchon” is still practiced in some restaurants.

The term “bouchon” has several meanings: it can refer either to the bouquet of ivy or broom that was hung, in the old regime, at the doors of cabarets to differentiate them from inns; either with the straw that travelers had available in the inns so that they could “bouchonner” their mount before the meal; or, more simply, by the bottle stopper, even if in Lyon, the custom is to serve wine in a jar and not in a bottle.

The”bouchons” were originally installed in the Croix-Rousse district, where the canuts live and work. According to custom, the wife is in the kitchen, while her husband takes care of the cellar and the dining room. The dishes offered are often composed of leftovers from the day before, which the cooks arrange to avoid waste. Over time the dishes have diversified. Today, the bouchons offer dishes made with traditional Lyonnais products. Mention may in particular be made of rosette, grattons, quenelles, gratin of cardoons with marrow or even local cheeses. All these dishes are accompanied by wine, usually Beaujolais but increasingly Côte du Rhône

Some Lyon specialties

“Les bouchons” offers simple cuisine, tasted in a friendly atmosphere. The menus offer a wide range of dishes to taste, but a few are part of the great Lyon tradition.

Les grattons: their notoriety has largely exceeded the Lyon region. Often eaten as an aperitif, grattons are small pieces of grilled pork rind. To taste in the Lyon style, in the conviviality, with a pot of Côte du Rhône or Beaujolais!

Les charcuteries: and first and foremost the sausage. The Lyonnais sausage manufacturing technique gives it all its qualities. It is made with a mixture of chunks of fat cut into small cubes 5 to 6 mm on the side and lean very finely chopped. The preparation is then seasoned and then enclosed in natural casings. On the butcher’s stalls, sausages are mixed with other specialties such as rosette or cervelas (cooking sausage), which is better when it is truffled and pistachio.

Le tablier de sapeur: offal, such as tripe, liver or double fat occupy a special place in Lyon cuisine. Le tablier de Sapeur is a typical Lyonnais dish. Its name comes from the Maréchal de Castellane who compared the double fat (beef strawberry) to the leather apron of the firefighters. It is prepared with beef strawberries cut into cubes and marinated in a preparation based on Mâconnais white wine, mustard, lemon, oil and salt / pepper. The strawberries are then rolled in bread crumbs and toasted in oil and butter and served with a Gribiche sauce.

La quenelle: a true tradition in Lyon since the 19th century, the quenelle is a preparation made from flour or semolina, butter and milk. The quenelles can be flavored with poultry, veal, or even, more traditionally, pike. The quenelles are served with a sauce, often a bechamel sauce, or for the pike quenelle, a Nantua sauce, made with crayfish butter.

Les Cardoons: this vegetable whose ribs are tasted, similar to chard rib. The Lyonnaise recipe offers it in the form of a marrow gratin, which can be enjoyed during the Christmas holidays.

The cheeses: the best known is the “cervelle de canut”, or “claqueret”, which is not strictly speaking a cheese, but a way to accommodate cottage cheese. To prepare it, choose a “male” white cheese, that is to say not too soft that you beat according to the “guignolesque” expression “as if it were his wife”. Then add salt, pepper, a drizzle of vinegar and olive oil, a shallot, chives, garden herbs and garlic “to keep the tongue cool.” Finally, a little crème fraîche and a drop of white wine (preferably Mâconnais) can complete the preparation.

Saint-Marcellin is also the cheese that can be found on all the cheesemongers’ stalls: originating in the town of the same name in Dauphiné, this cow’s cheese is eaten very matured.

Les Bugnes: Originally, the bugne was linked to the religious calendar. It was indeed a tradition to make them on the first Sunday of Lent because they were the only delicacy allowed. Its name comes from the old French “donut” which itself comes from “beigne”, a term that recalls the inflated shape of the bugne. Bugne is made from a mixture of flour, butter, sugar, a little salt and sometimes orange blossom. The resulting dough is cut with a knob (or spur) and then fried in oil.

France 24 – "Lyon: A visit to France's food capital" from Mathieu Käs on Vimeo.