Eating the Lyon

Cuisine Capital of France: that is Lyon. We are here again, curious to find out more about what holding this title means. What do people eat and how much do they pay in the markets, the bars and restaurants? I have anecdotally added to my sense of what’s happening.

We rented an apartment on a busy street near the center of town. Next door as well as across the street are very popular local bars. Beer is the alcoholic beverage of choice in these bars, not wine, so if you think France is a strictly or even predominantly wine culture you should take pause. The French love to eat, but take pause again. In the bars very few people have something to eat, not even peanuts or some such, as they nurse their beer for hours while blathering to friends and lovers.

Also on our street, practically next door, is a bakery, labeled ‘artisan.’ Aside from the mighty French baguette, there’s the even better ‘tradition,’ produced the old fashioned way, yielding a crustier bread and better text for many 10 or 20 cents more. The French have bread making down to an art – the ones more ‘scientifically produced are termed ‘pain industrial’ and do not compare to the real thing, excelling only in shelf life.

You pay by weight for some breads.

Not far away is a patisserie, a pastry shop that may also sell chocolate. The red pastries you see below, called pralines, are a Lyon specialty, made with almond paste and red dye. It is super sweet pastry. There is also a wide, no, an immense variety of other desserts, from the wonderful eclair to the Napoleon, short like him, but otherwise tasty.

Patisserie, watercolor painting

Many bakeries offer a lunch special, a baguette, a beverage and a dessert for €7-9. By comparison, most sit down restaurants offer a first, an ‘entree,’ (meaning the first course), a ‘plat’ (main course) and sometimes either a dessert or coffee for around €20, an amount most people can not afford to do too often. The minimum wage is about €18,000 a year.

An extra fancy chocolate shop

Here’s what’s on offer at this place (see below) for €18.50. You get an entree + plat or plat + dessert, pay €4 more to get all three. For firsts there is a ravioli with a cheese sauce made with St Marcelin cheese, or onions gratinee, or eggs muerette (a red wine sauce cooked with bacon, onions, shallots, mushrooms and various spices). For seconds there is a steak, a foix gras dish, or a pork filet. For dessert its a praline tart with whipped cream, a fromage blanc (a not sour, sour cream like cheese) dish, a cheese spread with herbs or a sorbet.


Beaujolais wine is produced just a bit north of Lyon. The low tannin Gamay grape is primary in the area. Among the famous wines are Nouveau Beaujolais, a fresh wine that comes out with great fanfare in early November each year. Since the region is so close I expected wine tasting to be a big part of the local scene. Indeed, there are about 16 wine bars, nothing compared to the number of regular bars, but I think far more than one would find elsewhere in France, let alone other wine producing countries.

We went to two wine bars during our ten days. A glass of mid range wines runs between €6 and €9 at each. The second one we went to is called La Bouteillerie. We had two glasses each, delivered with extensive commentary from the host, whereas at the first our host barely said a word. We talked extensively about the aromas and flavors, as well as the viscosity (‘legs’) of the wines. We were among the first there at 6 pm so he had more time than he might when full, taking about ten minutes with us. It’s not a large place, just three tables inside and three out, so I bet he does a lot of talking regardless. At the very least he discusses the clients’ preferences, coming up with a recommendation if they want one, as we observed as the place filled. He was so communicative that when he learned we were going to his home town of Annecy he gave us restaurant recommendations without us asking. Of course you would want to know where to eat.

We ordered a cheese and meat plate to go along with the wine. The plate was so covered in salad that at first I thought he’d forgotten the cheese and sausage. However there were several very good, very room temperature soft cheeses – this is the way you are supposed to serve cheeses like Camembert as you get the most flavor that way. There was some rosette. A rosette is a Lyon version of salami, rosey in color, thus the name. There were several terrines, ground meat formed into a loaf. One had pistachios, each was spiced and flavored somehow or another. This delightful experience ran us about €60. He only served us €6 wines, not by our request but his recommendations based on what kinds of wines we each like.

Bouchon Les Lyonaisse, another member of the Bouchon Association of restaurants , is at the bottom of a steep hill, about 250 leg aching, next day painful steps down from the L’Antiquaille. Lyon’s excellent early Christianity museum housed in a now closed hospital founded by nuns centuries ago. A bouchon is an old style of restaurant originally serving the canuts, silk workers, specializing in hearty but inexpensive food. They do not seem to be that inexpensive to me, but it is indeed hearty and tasty cuisine. You can avoid the tripe and other innards if you like.

Bouchon Les Lyonnais
A look at the interior of Les Lyonnais.

This is the second bouchon for us. This time it was a lentil dish for an entree and a ravioli for the main. The lentils were in a vinaigrette, the ravioli in an Ementhal cheese sauce, and a lot of it. Both were super, served with some of the best bread ever, by friendly staff. Being friendly is part of being a bouchon.

Salade de Lentilles Vertes au Cervelas
Salade de Lentilles Vertes au Cervelas (a sausage found in several EU countries)
Gratin de ravioles du Dauphiné Label Rouge
Gratin de ravioles du Dauphiné Label Rouge

This lovely lunch ran about €70. Not exactly cheap, is it. If you want cheap yet still good, go to the bakeries or the kebab shops. In the latter a kebab meal, sandwich, fries and beverage run from €9-13.

Wherever you go, you will enjoy!

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