Next week: Aix en Provence and Marseille, the conclusion to this series.
Aix en Provence – here
Marseille – here
Spots of pink punctuate the pâtisseries in Lyon. Craggy and curious, they’re praline or praline amande (almond praline). Almonds and sugar are pan-roasted, the resultant heat envelopes the nuts in a caramelized sugar, hardening into a brown, crackly shell. In Lyon, the sugar is tinted pink, a hue originally derived from rose petals. Pretty!
The pralines find purpose in many pastries, pocking brioche, sold in packs as a snack, and my favorite, in tarte aux pralines (above). It tastes like a pecan pie, but pink and with almonds of course, not pecans. My Bin and I enjoy our praline pleasures while sitting by the fountain in a pocket garden (below).
Now isn’t this a spectacular view in which to partake of pink pastries?
As Lyon is the agreed-upon gastronomic capital of France, its apex has to be Le Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse. Regarded as one of the country’s best stocked food markets, it honors Paul Bocuse, the distinguished chef who hails from Collonges-au-Mont-d’Or, near Lyon.
Several of the 50+ vendors at this indoor market are direct suppliers of the local bouchons.
In Lyon, butchers are accorded much respect as they’re able to transform animal entrails into savory masterpieces. Here, evidence of such: the city’s famous saucissons (sausages) and other charcuterie.
The shops represent the absolute best of French and especially Lyonnais specialties, such as:
Confectionery, most especially chocolate, particularly those made by Bernachon (see address at end of post).
Extraordinary macaron flavors.
Fine fowls fed on a diet of almond milk and corn.
Fromage. I never tire of looking at cheese…
Foie gras fantasies fulfilled.
At one stall, so amused is this old lady by my broken French that she gives me and my Bin one of her specialties: a fig stuffed with foie gras and soaked in Sauternes. We are astonished and appreciate it very much. The fig itself is à tomber par terre (drop dead good).
It blows my mind that at 10 in the morning, I can sip a glass of wine and suck oysters. When here, it seems like the very right thing to do.
My Bin and I are unsure if France is the place to have Jamón ibérico but my Bin is transfixed by the knife gliding over the ham leg. It doesn’t help that the vendor is utterly charming, explaining in his broken English why his jamón is délicieux. “C’mon Lor, let’s do it!” My Bin urges.
So we nibble (that’s a more genteel word than what actually is) on paper-thin slices of Jamón ibérico de bellota. When it comes to Spanish ham, this is king. We ask for two kinds: the shinier, more translucent ones are from the upper part of the leg while the darker slices are cut closer to the hoof.
There’s nothing to describe Jamón ibérico de bellota. The prosciutto I have in Italy might come close, but those were ruffly and delicate. What I’m swooning over today possesses a deep ruby red hue, akin to the Rioja I’m drinking far too quickly. The meat smells like the acorns the pig fed on, and gusts of forest and musk. I gaze at the striations of fat, like lightning ravaging a pumping heart, mine.
The texture of the jamón is incomparable, something I’ll not forget. Fat like butter flits through my mouth leaving swirls of smoke and salt. The meat yields through my teeth then somehow, miraculously, melts. Robust flavor raging more, more, more! I see my Bin slumped over, chewing with his eyes closed.
I’m amazed at how the human stomach, mine anyway, has a tremendous ability to make even more room for good food. Apparently, our nirvana with the jamón ibérico is but an appetizer. And so it is that at one of the restaurants in the market do my Bin and I encounter what we agree to be the best meal we have in France.
My husband falls all over his le tartare de boeuf, beef tartare so exquisite he closes his eyes for the second time today. Sensory contrasts of slippery colliding with cool amidst hits of acid from capers and shallots.
I have a quenelle de brochet sauce Nantua (pike quenelle with Nantua sauce). A specialty of the Rhône Alpes region, it’s an oval-shaped dumpling made from fish or meat, along with egg and flour. It’s then poached and served with a sauce, sometimes bechamel, and here, what I prefer, sauce Nantua. Crayfish shells are cooked and crushed, the precious juices forming the basis of this sauce, while the crustacean’s color meanwhile, confers an incomparable color.
Eating a quenelle is like eating a savory bread pudding. When sliced, the steam escapes, and I scoop some sauce onto each succulent spoonful: soft on soft, swallow. Now breathe.
Quenelles of my mind. Now if only I can bring them home.
Last day in Lyon
Market junkie in her favorite place
All the awesome offal that goes into Lyonnais cuisine.
See the pink pralines smack dab in the center?
I love the rusticity of this shot – the view, the hard-skinned cheeses, and that steel milk tin at the back.
Lyon’s famous sausages. I try the boudin noir (black pork blood sausage) that tastes exactly like dinuguan, believe it or not. I also try the andouillette, a pork sausage usually made with tripe. It tastes extremely porky… can’t say it’s my thing.
Last look at Lyon
Throughout our stay, we see the tips of the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere looming above us.
Built between 1872 and 1876 in a neo-Byzantine style, the basilica reigns atop the Fourvière Hill.
One afternoon,we ride the funicular train to the top of the hill and drink in these resplendent views. If you look closely at the first photo, you can see the French Alps in the distance.
We decide to walk down 287 steps back to the old town. I’d climb up all those steps just to get a look at those views again.
Like the Eiffel Tower we see in Paris, my Bin and I are equally drawn to the Basilique Notre Dame de Fourvière. We spend our last night in Lyon eating dessert while staring up at it.
NEXT WEEK: Aix en Provence + Marseille, the conclusion to this series.
Addresses of establishments mentioned in this post:
Le Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse
102 Cours Lafayette, 69003 Lyon, France
Open daily. Best to visit before noon.
42 Cours Franklin Roosevelt, Lyon