In Lyon, views to love, bouchons, and a cuisine I fall head over heels for.
Aix en Provence – here
Marseille – here
Lyon is a city of in-betweens: in between sea and mountain, in between northern and southern Europe, and lying at the foothills of the Alps, is in between two rivers, the Rhône and Saône.
Within the past decade, the Rhône’s Rive Gauche (Left Bank) has been redeveloped to provide the Lyonnais with gorgeous landscapes for strolling. The Berges du Rhône is a path separating traffic on the upper level while below, paved areas with tiered seating provide ideal lounging when the sun’s out.
Lyon presents me with an entirely different perspective on France, one that’s more romantic, and certainly one that’s breathtaking: I lose track of time looking at these views!
Grand Lyon, the old town…
… and its newer side, are true charmers. I’m smitten.
Gourmets agree with famous 19th century French food writer Maurice Edmond Saillard (aka Curnonsky), when he said Lyon was the capital of [French] gastronomy. France’s third largest city has the enviable position of being situated at an intersection of the country’s most abundant agricultural areas. Markets gleam with fruits from the Rhône valley, poultry from Bresse, fish from the Dombes lakes, and the Alpine regions supply dairy for the exceptional cheeses. And let’s not forget about the wine, but more on that later.
Bouchons are seen throughout Lyon, a type of restaurant serving the traditional cuisine. It’s a carnival for carnivores like me, food heavy on offal, meat, sausages, pâtés, etc. While Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais has officially certified only about 20+ bouchons in Lyon, it’s entirely effortless to eat well in almost any bouchon here.
Bouchons, most founded in the 17th and 18th centuries, are well-worn but enthralling affairs. Checkered tablecloths, wooden chairs, floors made from tiles or wood scuffed from use – they all contribute to the authenticity of place.
The pot de Beaujolais is a thing of beauty and a digestive necessity since Lyonnais food is heavy. The pot has a solid 3 centimeter base and holds about 1 pint (2 cups) of wine, “the right amount to satisfy the thirst of a mature and experienced man,” [or woman], so goes the saying.
My Beaujolais shown here with salade Lyonnais, assorted greens and herbs seasoned with a mustard vinaigrette, scattered with croutons, and crowned with a poached egg.
Linen napkins, heavy cutlery, and glasses. Bouchons treat their customers right.
Of all the bouchons I eat in in Lyon, Café Comptoir Abel is my favorite. Reputed to be the oldest and most authentic bouchon in Lyon, its waiters are gruff and efficient but the food is faultless.
Saucissons de Lyon aux lentilles (sausages with lentils) changes my life, and I don’t say that lightly. Slices of pork sausage and globules of fat ooze succulence. Spoon in now a serving of lentils; little things with a big hit of mustard, tantalizing textures. It’s a magical spell of acid on smoke, salt on fat. I’m bewitched.
My Bin experiences his own epiphany, the beef fillet with morels. The beef is softness incarnate, a raft of pleasure carrying morel mushrooms. Dark and delicate, the cone-shaped fungi boosts the earthiness of the red wine sauce. This dish has so imprinted itself on my husband’s taste memory that he tells me, “We’ll come back to Lyon just to eat this again.”
Wanting to try something new, I have the hen with a sauce veloutée. It tastes like a gamier chicken.
Away from the cobblestone streets and deep within some buildings are Lyon’s traboules. These are secret (and dark!) passages wending their way through the apartment blocks and beneath the streets. There are about 315 passages linking 230 streets, a total length of 50 kilometers. These secret ways date from the Roman times and were built by canuts (silk weavers) to dispatch their wares in bad weather. It’s very cool in these traboules, the thickness of the walls shutting out any sound.
The unassuming door that leads to a traboule.
Specialties of Lyonnais cuisine & food I really enjoy
I make sure to try cervelle de canut, literally:”silk weaver’s brain.” Favored by Lyon’s canuts (silk weavers), it’s called such because it’s either a statement of the intelligence of the canuts or because it was thought to resemble brains. It’s more pungent than I expect it to be, one of those dishes that defies preconceptions.
St.-Marcellin, a white cheese made with goat’s or cow’s milk. As it ages, its sheen changes from light blue to red and it becomes so soft it’s got to be eaten with a spoon. In the photo above, a wedge of bread serves the purpose.
I don’t like meringues, can live without them. But when I try this massive meringue, I’m seriously forced to reconsider my prejudices. Its exceptional crispness belies the chewy caramelized sugar within. From my favorite boulangerie in all of Lyon, La Boulangerie de St Marc. Beside the meringue is a baton of rye bread filled with figs and walnuts. I eat this while in the laundromat waiting for my clothes to dry.
Moules au Roquefort, mussels bathed in a creamy cheese sauce. Fragrant with white wine and thyme, it’s poetry made edible.
The writing on the bowl is so apropos.
Before the moules, my Bin and I gulp down cool fine de Claire oysters with swigs of a Muscadet wine. I taste the ocean in my mouth.
In the heart of the city, I stumble upon Lyon’s only cupcake store. Its name: Little. We enjoy the top two flavors, Nutella and Speculoos. The little cakes have a nugget of each ingredient hidden in their middle. Cupcakes in France tend to be a shade more dense than their American counterpart, and the frosting is either cream cheese or meringue-based.
Sure, you can get waffles on any street in France but in Lyon, they’re especially crisp. Shamelessly smeared with Nutella, the paste glistens before freezing up in the chilly air.
The patisseries in Lyon have many sweets unique to them, one of which is the gigantic tuile. Lavished in all manner of glazes and/or pocked with toppings, they’re madly, definitely decadent.
Addresses of establishments mentioned in this post:
Café Comptoir Abel
25 Rue Guynemer, 69002 Lyon, France
La Boulangerie de St Marc
13 Rue Sainte-Hélène, 69002 Lyon, France