Lyon good eats: the Bouchon

Over the next few posts I’m going to be telling you about where you can find good food in Lyon.

Spend any time in Lyon and you’ll understand why they say this city is France’s gastronomic capital. This city is teeming with over a thousand restaurants, fresh market produce, and a population that loves good food. The bouchon is a classic example of Lyonnais cuisine. The bouchon tradition came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the 17th and 18th centuries. History is a little confused as to where the name Bouchon comes from, but that’s ok because the food is often delicious. Heavy on meat and fat, the traditional Lyonnais meal is often considered to be comfort food.

Of course, ever since tourism hit hard, a number of less “authentic” bouchons have popped up since the bouchon tradition came up. Since 1997, an organization called L’Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), awards a designation/certification to certain bouchons that are considered to be truly “authentic. ” These lucky few fall into Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais. The normal tourist can figure out which ones have been so honored since they have a sticker of the marionette Gnafron. This baby is a Lyonnais symbol of the pleasures of dining, with a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin bearing the Lyon crest in the other.

A typical 3-course meal at a bouchon should run you around 12-15€ at a touristy bouchon, and can get up to 20€ at one of the authentic bouchons. They’ll come with an appetizer, a main dish, and a dessert.

Let’s start with the appetizer (entrée).

  • Salade Lyonnais. This is a salad with lettuce, lardons (pieces of bacon), croutons and a mustard dressing.  It’s served with a poached egg on top.
  • Saladier Lyonnais/Salade des Lentilles. This is a cold lentil salad, often tossed in a mustard sauce. Lyon likes its mustard.
  • Gâteau de foies blonds de volaille (avec ou sans salade). This is a custardy little chicken liver mousse. Can also be the main dish.
  • Boudin noir. This is pork blood sausage, usually served with warmed apples. Can also be the main dish.

The main course (plat) is really where the show begins.

  • Quenelle de brochet avec sauce Nantua. This is a fish dumpling made of pike, served with a crayfish sauce.

    Quenelle avec riz

  • Tablier de sapeur. This is the flat cut of tripe which has been cut and fried in butter. The tripe comes from the stomach area of a pig.
  • Saucisson au vin. Self explantory, sausage cooked in wine.
  • Gâteau de foie de volaille. Cake of chicken white liver.
  • Poulet à la vinaigre. Chicken cooked in a vinegar and mustard sauce, and usually served with rice.
  • Andouillette. This is chitterling sausage served with a mustard saauce (pig intestines!)

    Andouillette (photo by Lauren)

Finally dessert is of course a must.

  • Saint Marcellin or Saint Félicien cheese. Both of these cheeses are made in the Lyonnais region. Yes, in France, cheese is a dessert, not an appetizer. If you order one, they kind of expect you to eat it all. All of it.
  • La Cervelle de Canut. Translated literally, this means silk weaver’s brain. But don’t be scared, it’s actually just a creamed cheese with herbs, once a favorite of the canuts who made Lyon a rich city.
  • Your choice of pastries/tartes/desserts. I’ve had anything from a tarte aux pralines to a sorbet/fruit mix to soufflé.

I have two bouchon suggestions (there are a ton of them in the touristy areas, but I found these two to be special).

1. Le Petit Flore, 19 Rue Garet, 69001 Lyon

Tiffany and I found this place based on reviews from the New York Times back in September 2010. At the end of September, it seemed as if the menu was just transitioning from summer fare to heartier winter fare.

Tiffany is sitting in front of a dish called “Le Soufflé de Sandre, sauce Nantua.” It was a fish soufflé in a crayfish sauce, kind of a spin on the traditional quenelle! The potatos are self explantory, but the green dish at the top of the image is a fresh vegetable soufflé. They like their soufflés here! I am sitting in front of the plat du jour, which turned out to be chicken stewed in a delicious soup.

Their desserts didn’t disappoint either. The left image below is of a vanilla crème over caramel, and the image to the right is a red fruits sorbet over fresh fruits.

2. Café des Fédérations, 8-10 rue Major Martin, 69001 Lyon

This is arguably one of Lyon’s most famous restaurants and certainly one of the most reputed bouchons in Lyon. When Jillian come to visit, we went to this restaurant. It was quite the experience.

The appetizers were just served; we were not given the choice of what to start with. I think it’s so quaint to just be given food. The amuse bouche was an oeuf en meurette, a poached egg in red wine sauce. I was not the biggest fan. I don’t believe eggs should be cooked in wine. Then, the appetizer was a salade lyonnais, a salade des lentilles, and plate of Lyonnais saucissons and gherkins (small pickles). All of these were fine, but you have to really like the taste of mustard.

Finally, we were able to choose from a wide variety of main dishes. Basically everything I’ve listed above was on the menu. next came this huge cheese platter with St Marcellin, the cervelle de canut and other regional cheese (no choice here!). We finished with a molten chocolate cake and a crème caramel. The portions were enormous, so if you come to this insitution, bring your appetite. You’ll be more than full afterwards.

Bon appétit!

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One thought on “Lyon good eats: the Bouchon

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