LYON (part I)
"It is this honesty, this taste of the measure, I like to find in an honest and healthy Lyonnaise dish" - Paul Bocuse
Lyon, the third in size city in France, sits at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers. Its center reflects thousands of years of history from the Roman Lugdunum, medieval and Renaissance architecture in Vieux Lyon, to the modern Confluence district on Presqu'île peninsula. “Traboules”, covered passageways between buildings, connect the slopes of Vieux Lyon and La Croix-Rousse, a labyrinth tourists love to explore. Extraordinary churches, top class museums, beautiful squares, unique gastronomy and traditional “bouchon” restaurants attract people from far away places. Saint-Exupéry, Paul Bocuse, Ampère, the Jarres (father and son), Lumière brothers are just some of the people who form the pantheon of the famous who born in this “magnifique cite”.
Lyon-Saint Exupéry international airport is located just over 20 kilometers to the east of Lyon city center. There is no direct train or metro connecting the airport to the city center. The ‘official’ ways to get to and from the airport are the Rhonexpress tram or taxi. The Rhônexpress is a tram shuttle service that goes between Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport and Lyon’s main train station: Part-Dieu train station. The tram shuttle stop can be found at the airport train station. It runs every 15 minutes, and takes around 30 minutes. Full-price tickets cost €16.10 (€27.80 return), but rates are cheaper if you buy online or you are under 25. Children under 12 travel free.
Part-Dieu train station is located at the business area of the city and nowhere close to to the areas where the tourists want to go. From the trin station one needs to change to other means of transportation.
If you travel with company, or do not care to spend some more euros, it is much more preferable to take a taxi directly to your hotel door. Taxi rides cost something between 50 and 100 euros. I reserved a taxi online for 55 €. It worth avoiding all the hassle.
Mind that the airport has two terminals (1 and 2), when you book a taxi back to the airport.
The TCL, Lyon's public transit system, consisting of metro, tramways and buses, serves the Lyon metropolis. The network has four metro lines (A, B, C, D), five tram lines (T1, T2, T3, T4, T5) and a big bus network (both trolleybuses and motorbuses). There are also two funicular lines from Vieux Lyon to Saint-Just and Fourvière. When I was there one of the two lines was not operating due to maintenance.
The ticketing system is relatively simple as the city has only one public transport operator, the SYTRAL. Single tickets cost 1,90 €, but one can buy a 10-ticket carnet for €16.90. There are also 1, 2 and 3-day cards, as well as weekly and monthly passes.
Tickets are available from bus and tram drivers (in this case you pay more) as well as machines at metro entrances and at several bus/tram stops. Bring coins, as machines don't accept bank notes (or some international credit cards), which is a real pain in the ass. Time-stamp tickets on all forms of public transport or risk a fine.
If you plan to stay for more than 4-5 days I recommend you buying a weekly pass (pass Hebdo) which is valid from Monday to Sunday inclusive and costs €19.30. To issue the card you need to go to one of the six TCL agents available (office hours). You need to bring an ID with you as the card is personalised and has your photo on it. You have to pay an extra €5 when you issue it. Then you can reload it as many times as you want for €19.30. The most central TCL agent is located at 6, Place Bellecour.
Lyon public transport system is excellent and buses are always on time, but walking is the best way to see the city.
The public transit system has been complemented since 2005 by Vélo'v, a bicycle network providing a low-cost service where bicycles can be hired and returned at any of 340 stations throughout the city. Borrowing a bicycle for less than 30 minutes is free. Free rental time can be extended for another 30 minutes at any station.
Lyon sits at the junction (confluence) of the Rhône and Saône rivers. The Rhône, which is the wider of the two, sits on the east and the Saône on the west. The area between the two rivers forms a long and narrow peninsula (Presqu'île), where the main part of the city lies. Here are most of the shops and restaurants and the area most probably tourists will stay while visiting the city. Place Bellecour is located on the Presqu'île between the two rivers and is the third-largest public square in France. The broad, pedestrian-only Rue de la République leads north from Place Bellecour. To the north the Presqu'ile, which is completely flat, borders with the La Croix Rousse Hill.
La Croix-Rousse, known as "the hill that works" because it is traditionally home to many small silk workshops, an industry for which the city has long been renowned.
On the west of the Presqu'ile, between the Saône and the steep Fourvière hill, on a strip of land lies Vieux Lyon (Old Lyon), the most touristic area of the city.
Fourvière Hill, known as "the hill that prays" because it is the location for the basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière, several convents and the residence of the Archbishop. Fourvière also hosts the Tour métallique (a highly visible TV tower, replicating the last stage of the Eiffel Tower) and the city's funicular railways.
Lyon is a very big city and certainly expands much further than the above areas, but the chance the visitor has to get out of it is very small.
East of Presqu'île (after the Rhône) is a large flat area, upon which sits much of modern Lyon and contains most of the city's population. Situated in this area is the urban center of La Part-Dieu, which clusters the landmark structures Tour Part-Dieu, Tour Oxygène, and Tour Swiss Life, as well as the city's primary railway station, Gare de Lyon-Part-Dieu.
In Part II of my visit in Lyon, I will discribe three long walks in the areas of:
-Vieux Lyon & Fourvière, and
On the 1st century BC, the Romans built on Fourvière hill a settlement called "Colonia Copia Felix Munatia", a name invoking prosperity and the blessing of the gods. The city became increasingly referred to as Lugdunum. Soon the city grew in size and importance. Two Roman emperors were born in Lugdunum: Claudius and Caracalla. Early Christians in Lyon were martyred for their beliefs under the reigns of various Roman emperors.
In later years Lyon became capital of the Kingdom of the Burgundians. In the 9th century Lyon was part of the Holy Roman Empire and later was made part of the Kingdom of Arles. Lyon did not come under French control until the 14th century.
In the late 15th century, Lyon became the economic counting house of France and remained the banking center of France for centuries. During the Renaissance, the city's development was driven by the silk trade, which strengthened its ties to Italy. Italian influence on Lyon's architecture is still visible among historic buildings. In the later 1400s and 1500s Lyon was also a key center of literary activity and book publishing. In 1572, Lyon was a scene of mass violence by Catholics against Protestant Huguenots in the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre.
Two centuries later, Lyon was again convulsed by violence when, during the French Revolution, the citizenry rose up against the National Convention and supported the Girondins. The city was besieged by Revolutionary armies for over two months before surrendering in October 1793. Many buildings were destroyed, especially around the Place Bellecour. A decade later, Napoleon ordered the reconstruction of all the buildings demolished during that period.
The city became an important industrial town during the 19th century. In 1831 and 1834, the canuts (silk workers) of Lyon staged two major uprisings for better working conditions and pay. They were among the first well-defined worker uprisings of the period known as the Industrial Revolution.
In 1862, the first of Lyon's extensive network of funicular railways began operation.
During World War II, Lyon was a center for the occupying Nazi forces, including Klaus Barbie, the infamous "Butcher of Lyon". But the city was also a stronghold of the French Resistance – the many secret passages known as traboules enabled people to escape Gestapo raids. On 3 September 1944, Lyon was liberated.
Lyon has a long and chronicled culinary arts tradition that goes back to the sixteenth century, when Catherine de Medici brought cooks from Florence to her court and they prepared dishes from the agricultural products from the regions of France. This was revolutionary, as it combined the fresh, diverse and indigenous nature of regional produce with the know-how of Florentine cooks.
The modern culinary reputation of Lyon was truly born with the publication of a poem by Joseph de Berchoux, glorifying the local cuisine. He was born in Roanne in 1760, and moved to Lyon in 1770. His work, “Gastronomie ou l'homme des champs à table”, which was translated into several languages, introduced the idea of "eating well" in French culture and dispersed the new word "gastronomy".
In the nineteenth century, middle-class women, nicknamed the "Mères lyonnaises” (Lyonnaise mothers), left their homes to work as cooks and created brand new culinary traditions incorporating their regional roots.
The 20th century interwar period is known as the "Golden Age of the Mères". In 1935, the famed food critic Curnonsky did not hesitate to describe the city of Lyon as the "world capital of gastronomy".
Lyon's cuisine is defined by simplicity and quality. Renowned 3-star Michelin chefs such as Marie Bourgeois and Eugénie Brazier developed Lyonnaise cuisine into a national phenomenon favored by the French elite; a tradition which Paul Bocuse later turned into a worldwide success. With more than a thousand eateries, the city of Lyon has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France.
The bouchon is a traditional Lyonnais restaurant that serves local dishes along with local wines. The tradition of bouchons came from small inns visited by silk workers passing through Lyon in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Typically, the emphasis in a bouchon is not on haute cuisine but, rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner.
Since 1997, "L' Association de Défense des Bouchons Lyonnais" (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), bestow annual certifications to restaurants as "authentic" bouchons.
These restaurants receive the title "Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais" and are identified with a sticker showing the marionette Gnafron, 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.
Two of France's best-known wine-growing regions are located near the city: the Beaujolais region to the north and the Côtes du Rhône region to the south.
Traditional local dishes include coq au vin; gras double; salade lyonnaise (lettuce with bacon, croûtons and a poached egg); rosette de Lyon; andouillette; saucisson Lyonnais; quenelles; pâté en croûte; pommes de terre à la lyonnaise (sliced pan-fried potatoes and thinly sliced onions, sautéed in butter with parsley)... just to name some.
Popular local confections include marron glacé, bugnes, coussin de Lyon, pralines de Lyon, pralus (brioche aux pralines), tarte aux pralines and tarte tatin.
I have to confess that traditional lyonnaise cuisine does not appeal to me at all. Of course, one should visit a bouchon while in the area, just for the experience …or, because when he goes back home people will ask how do traditional restaurants feel like in Lyon.
I would propose, while you are in France in general, to eat in one of the boulangeries. The big ones, and some chains (like “Paul”, “Chez Jules”, or Brioche Dorée) offer not only take away food, but have also sit-in areas. Of course, one can also lunch or dinner in one of the many cafés.
The french café is not like the coffee shops or cafeterias we are used in other parts of Europe or Far East.
Here, in France, café means café-restaurant. These establishments are restaurants, which serve coffee or tea at a limited number of tables inside, or only on the street, or outside lunch-dinner times.
There are some independent European-style coffee shops, where you can have coffee at any time of the day, but only in the more touristic areas…. and do not forget there is always starbucks… thanks God!
The name Mères lyonnaises (Mothers of Lyon) refers to the female cooks who gave birth to Lyon’s current gourmet reputation. In the mid-19th century, these women of modest means, initially the cooks in large middle-class households in Lyon, decided to start their own businesses, serving dishes that mixed homemade and traditional cuisine.
Their history was linked to the rise of automobile tourism, as promoted by the Michelin Guide in the rise of the 20th century, and the development of the city of Lyon under mayor Edouard Herriot. Many more women joined their numbers during the Great Depression, when they were let go from the wealthy households that employed them. This inter-war period is referred to as the Golden Age of the Mères.
While starting out serving a client base of working-class people in this industrial city, the reputation of their meals soon spread to a much wealthier clientele. They offered a menu that was simple yet refined enough to guarantee both culinary pleasure and a welcoming ambiance. The first historical mention of a Mère dates back to Mère Guy in 1759. Her establishment specialized in “matelote d'anguilles”, a dish of stewed eels in white/red-wine sauce. A century later, her granddaughters, referred to as La Génie and Maréchal, became the new face of Mère Guy, bringing back classic recipes, including their grandmother's stewed eels, the dish that "made the Mère Guy reputation." Around this time (1830-1850), Mère Brigousse ran a restaurant in the Charpennes district of Lyon. One of her most popular dishes was Tétons de Vénus (Venus' breasts), large breast-shaped quenelles. Mère Fillioux, in the late 19th century, was the first Mère whose "reputation was known well beyond the limits of the city and region."
She established a restaurant, known for a simple, unchanging menu featuring her own culinary creations, such as “volaille demi-deuil”. The dish takes its name from her technique of cooking "a fattened hen with slivers of truffle inserted between skin and flesh. Specialties such as these, "turned out with such generosity and devotion to perfection...made her famous to gourmets the world over within her lifetime." As early as the 1920s, Mère Bourgeois was making a name for herself in the region. In 1933, she became one of the first women to receive 3 stars from the Michelin Guide for her restaurant in Priay.
Also in 1933, Mère Brazier, "the highest achiever" of all the Mères, was awarded this distinction for both of her restaurants, giving her a total of 6 stars. Trained by the renowned Mère Fillioux, she was "the first woman to receive this many stars for two restaurants simultaneously" and "rose to become Lyon’s most renowned chef" of the time. Paul Bocuse, the longest-standing recipient of 3 Michelin stars (over 40 years), apprenticed under Mère Brazier. Bocuse attributes much of his success to those formative years, a sentiment echoed "by many of Lyon’s great chefs" who received similar culinary training under les Mères.
One of Lyon traditions is a type of brunch food called "mâchons", made of local charcuterie and usually accompanied by Beaujolais red wine. Mâchons were the customary meal of the canuts, the city's silk workers, who ate a late-morning meal after they finished their shifts in the factories.
The quenelle is a dumpling of various compositions typical in the traditional cuisine of several regions of eastern France - especially the Lyonnaise or Alsatian cuisine.
It seems that the proximity of the Dombes plateau and its rich in fish pools, especially pike, led to the creation of the typical quenelles lyonnaises (quenelles de brochet). In the 1830s, pike was marketed in Lyon at very attractive prices because of its overabundance. This led a pastry chef (C. Morateur) to incorporate pike into his puff pastry. The quenelles of those early days were made with animal fat, flour and water and shaped by hand into small cylinders.
It is Joseph Moyne, the son of a pork butcher, who, after WWI, “modernised” the quenelle by using semolina and fresh butter and he created the recipe and the form of the quenelle we know today.
The new recipe was lighter and finer. One of the main consequences was that the quenelle dough is softer. As it is not easy to give to it its elongated cylindrical shape, he come with the idea of shaping quenelles by means of two special spoons giving a pointy appearance to the two ends of the final product. This revival (by a pork butcher) marks the end of the monopoly of pastry chefs on the manufacture of quenelle.
The recipe of today is more or less the following: the pike is stripped, and after its bones are removed, it is pounded in a stone vessel with a wooden pestle. Flour is added to it and then milk (or water), butter, eggs and seasoning before the mixture is crushed for several minutes. The resulting dough is shaped with the two spoons as described above. Finally, the quenelles are poached in hot water. The quenelles are sold in store, either natural or prepared (cooked).
During the Second World War, dietary restrictions make it difficult to provide all the ingredients to make traditional quenelles and pike finally removed from the recipes. As a result, quenelles became simpler and less expensive, called the natural quenelles. Over the years the quenelles have evolved and besides natural and pike ones, we have quenelles with liver or marrow, herbs, chorizo, morels, olives, basil, etc.
The quenelles are cooked in a tray with tomato or mushroom sauce, béchamel, or the famous Nantua sauce (with crayfish sauce, carrots, celery, & cognac), till they get a brownish color. The sauce has to cover the quenelles, which after being cooked in slow fire for 30-40 min double in size.
Pike quenelles is a staple of Lyon, that fondly brings to the mind of every Lyonnaise the Sundays of his childhood.
While in Lyon, I bought some quenelles de brochet and Nantua sauce and I cooked them as the main course, one Saturday I had over my friend Areti coming all the way from Geneva for lunch. It was one of the worse dishes I ever had... too boring taste, a soft unappealing texture that felt weird in the mouth, and a fishy smell... The rest of the company seemed to like it...or, where they just polite?
« Je ne connais qu'une chose que l'on fasse très bien à Lyon, on y mange admirablement, et, selon moi, mieux qu'à Paris. Les légumes surtout y sont divinement apprêtés. À Londres, j'ai appris que l'on cultive vingt-deux espèces de pommes de terre ; à Lyon, j'ai vu vingt-deux manières différentes de les apprêter, et douze au moins de ces manières sont inconnues à Paris. » Stendhal-1837
The term "charcuterie" commonly refers to food preparations based on meat and giblets, raw or cooked ("cold cuts"). They come mainly, but not exclusively, from pork, almost all of which can be used, and often have salt as a preservative (salting, brining).
The term “charcuterie” ("delicatessen") also refers to specialized stores where processed meat products are sold in an attached "lab" or simply resold.
Charcuterie products are usually consumed as starters, but also as main courses, commonly cooked (boiled or fried or grilled) and served with potatoes.
The four most famous charcuterie products in Lyon are the “rosette de Lyon”, the “Jésus de Lyon”, the “saucisson sec” and the “Andouillette”.
The “saucisson Brioché” is a cooked sausage placed in a brioche dough and baked. It is often eaten without accompaniment, sliced. It is similar to "Pâté en croute" (see bellow).
Andouillette is a coarse-grained sausage made with pork (or occasionally veal), intestines or chitterlings, pepper, wine, onions, and seasonings. Tripe, which is the stomach lining of a cow, is sometimes an ingredient in the filler of an andouillette, but it is not the casing or the key to its manufacture. True andouillette will be an oblong tube.
If made with the small intestine, it is a plump sausage generally about 25 mm in diameter but often it is much larger, possibly 7–10 cm in diameter, and stronger in scent when the colon is used. True andouillette is rarely seen outside France and has a strong, distinctive odour related to its intestinal origins and components. Although sometimes repellent to the uninitiated, this aspect of andouillette is prized by its devotees.
In Lyon, andouillette is popularly served in bouchons. The types find here are usually two: the pure “pork” product named “andouillette de Troyes”, and the "andouillette Lyonnaise" (sometimes called Beaujolaise), based on “fraise de veau” (the membrane that surrounds the small intestine of the calf).
The second type was the most common in the region till it was banned, as a precaution, during the mad cow crisis. The production resumed in September of 2015. Andouillette, often simply pan-fried or grilled, can be cooked with Beaujolaise wine (cut into pieces and cooked in the wine), mustard, Provençal style, with tomatoes and parsley, etc. Two are the characteristics of andouillettes lyonnaises: they are often served with strong mustard and they are coated with breadcrumbs.
Pâté en croûte
Pâté en croûte (or pâté-croûte) is a popular French dish made of a pâté cooked in a puff pastry or in a short pastry. As a cold starter, it has jelly at the top and is cooked in a terrine (a pottery container).
There are many variations, especially regional, which differ primarily by the type of pâté inside, usually made of veal and pork, but also made of poultry or game. The pâté can be flavored with spices, mushrooms or even pistachios. In Lyon pâté en croute is very popular and comes in many varieties.
In Lyon, as well as in the rest of France, they love “saucisson sec” (or just “saucisson”). Saucisson, is a variety of thick, dry cured sausage typically made of pork, or a mixture of pork and other meats, similar to salami or summer sausage.
Saucisson comes from the Latin word "salsus" meaning salted. There are saucisson recipes dating from Roman times, and Gaulish recipes for dried pork.
The saucisson Lyonnais is made of minced beef and diced bacon. Saucisson has existed in Lyon for several millennia, but the recipe that is most commonly designated by this formula now dates back to the 1830s. It was originally made of several meats in addition to lean pork, including donkey, but this has been replaced over time by horse or beef. It favorably uses lean meats (which give it its characteristic dark color), finely chopped, mixed with large dice of hard fat pork belly. It is usually accompanied by large grains of black pepper, ground white pepper, garlic, some spices (nutmeg, mace), natural lactic ferments and red wine from the region. The whole is embossed in natural gut (pork spindles) covered with natural saltpeter (Potassium nitrate), and dried several months to allow a satisfactory maturation and an optimal drying: the saucisson Lyonnais is eaten hard. A good saucisson Lyonnais usually weighs between 400 and 500 grams, and does not exceed 15 or 20% in fat.
Gargantua and Pantagruel
The word saucisson first appeared in France in 1546 in the third book (Tiers livre) of “The Life of Gargantua and of Pantagruel” (“La vie de Gargantua et de Pantagruel”).
This is a pentalogy of novels written in the 16th century by François Rabelais, which tells of the adventures of two giants, Gargantua and his son Pantagruel. The text is written in an amusing, extravagant, and satirical vein, and features much crudity, scatological humor, and violence (lists of explicit or vulgar insults fill several chapters).
The censors of the Collège de la Sorbonne stigmatized it as obscene, and in a social climate of increasing religious oppression in a lead up to the French Wars of Religion, it was treated with suspicion, and contemporaries avoided mentioning it. According to Rabelais, the philosophy of his giant Pantagruel, "Pantagruelism", is rooted in "a certain gaiety of mind pickled in the scorn of fortuitous things" (“…une certaine gaîté d'esprit confite dans le mépris des choses fortuites”).
Rabelais had studied Ancient Greek and he applied it in inventing hundreds of new words in the text, some of which became part of the French language. Wordplay and risqué humor abound in his writing.
Paul Bocuse was (died at the beginning of this year) more than just a celebrated chef; he was a legend and an ambassador of French cuisine to the ends of the world.
Wandering around in Lyon is impossible not to come across his name or a picture or a mural of him.
The central market of Lyon bears his name: "Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse".
A student of Eugénie Brazier, he was one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine, which is less opulent and calorific than the traditional “cuisine Classique”, and stresses the importance of fresh ingredients of the highest quality.
Paul Bocuse claimed that Henri Gault first used the term, "nouvelle cuisine", to describe food prepared by Bocuse and other top chefs for the maiden flight of the Concorde airliner in 1969.
Bocuse made many contributions to French gastronomy both directly and indirectly, because he had numerous students, many of whom have become notable chefs themselves.
Since 1987, the “Bocuse d'Or” has been regarded as the most prestigious award for chefs in the world (the Oscars of the Gastronomy) and is sometimes seen as the unofficial world championship for chefs.
Paul Bocuse received numerous awards throughout his career, including the medal of “Commandeur de la Légion d'honneur”. Bocuse's main restaurant, “l'Auberge du Pont de Collonges”, is a luxury establishment near Lyon (in Collonges-au-Mont-d'Or, the place of both his birth and death), which has been serving a traditional menu for decades.
When we hear the world pralines, what comes in our mind is the Belgian pralines, invented in 1912 by Jean Neuhaous. Belgian pralines consist of a chocolate shell with a softer, sometimes liquid, filling, traditionally made of different combinations of hazelnut, almonds, sugar, syrup and often milk-based pastes. In England these pralines are called just chocolates and Roses by Cadbury are what those islanders have in mind.
French pralines, is a firm combination of almonds and caramelized sugar, which can be tinted and flavored in various ways. The first recipe was invented in the seventeenth century by Clement Jaluzot, the chief cook of César de Choiseul marshal of Plessis-Praslin. A few years later, Clement Jaluzot founded a confectionery firm in Montargis, where he marketed his pralines. Léon Mazet, whose wife Jeanne Vieillard is the daughter of the great chocolatier of Clermont-Ferrand, bought in 1903 the praline recipe held by the shop "Au Duc de Praslin" founded by Clément Jaluzot.
This is how the Mazet House, which is the only one with the original recipe of praline, was born. This praline is also crushed to become the praline used in pastry, or crushed and mixed with chocolate to form the “praliné”, which is more or less what is used as filling in Belgian pralines. The sugar of the Montargis praline is caramelized, so brown, but there is also a praline whose sugar is colored pink. Traditionally associated with the Lyon region, pink (bright red) praline is appreciated for its sweet taste and crunchy texture. People like it in the form of candy (often called praline roses), but it is also found in delicious recipes. Praline roses are an excellent souvenir to bring back home from Lyon.
The story behind the sweet’s rosy pink color remains a bit of a mystery, but there is no way to pass outside a “boulangerie” or a “pâtisserie” and the bright red not to catch your eye.
Nearly all bouchons or pastry shops in Lyon will serve a “tarte aux pralines” for dessert. Crushed and cooked with cream, pralines add a nutty crunchiness to the irresistibly sweet and gooey filling that will keep your mouth glued shut until dinner time.
Not for my taste though, as I find it very sweet!
Another well-known praline-inspired speciality is the “brioche aux pralines”, which was made famous by baker Auguste Pralus in 1955, coining it as the ‘Praluline’. You may also see this called “brioche de Saint-Genix”, which comes from Saint-Genix-sur-Guiers in the Rhône-Alpes region. I have to admit that “brioche aux pralines” is just perfect. At the beginning its appearance did not appeal to me at all, but after I had the first bite I could not stop devouring it! Other combinations you may want to try are praline cake, biscotti, meringue, ice-cream and even praline chocolate mousse.
Where to go for the best pralines in Lyon? Try your local boulangerie early in the morning for freshly baked “brioche aux pralines” or “tarte aux pralines”. Otherwise visit one of the three “Boutique Pralus”; or the “Boulangerie Du Palais” in Vieux Lyon, if you do not mind the long queues; or the “A La Marquise”, housed in the historical “La Maison du Chamarier” in Vieux Lyon; or the “Boulangerie Jocteur” in “Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse” or even better the “Jocteur le Boulanger de l'Île Barbe”.
Coussin de Lyon
The “coussin de Lyon” is a sweet specialty composed of chocolate and marzipan and created by Voisin, a French chocolatier. This tidbit is a piece of pale green marzipan, with dark green netting, filled with a chocolate ganache flavored with curaçao liqueur. During the plague epidemic in 1643, the alderman of Lyon made the vow to organize a procession at Fourvière to implore the Virgin Mary to save the city. They carried a seven-pound candle of wax and a gold crown on a silk cushion. This gave the chocolatier Voisin, based in Lyon since 1897, the idea of using the shape of the cushion to create this confection in 1960. It has become the most popular French specialty confection containing chocolate ganache. It is possible to buy the "cushions" individually, and also in velvet boxes (of three sizes) which recall the original form of silk cushion.
Asterix in Lugdunum
In one of Asterix's adventures called "Le Tour de Gaule d' Asterix” there is a reference to the cuisine of Lyon. Inspector General Overanxius arrives in the fortified Roman camp of Compendium on a mission from Julius Caesar to lead the local garrison against the village of indomitable Gauls. Centurion Lotuseatus warns him the Gauls are dangerous, but the attack goes ahead, only to be soundly repelled.
Undeterred, Overanxius erects a stockade around the village to prevent the inhabitants from spreading their rebellious ideas through Gaul. Asterix bets that he and Obelix will escape the village and go on a tour of Gaul, collecting regional culinary specialties for a banquet upon their return. Overanxius promises to raise the stockade if they succeed. Asterix maps out a route, while Obelix fetches a large bag to hold their shopping. The two break through the stockade, while the other villagers create a diversion by attacking the barricade on another front. Overanxius has a rider dispatched to alert the entire occupation army to be on the lookout for the pair. Asterix and Obelix in their tour pass, among others, Lugdunum, today Lyon. In Lugdunum the two Gauls abandon the postal cart they stole from the romans during their visit of Divodurum (Metz) and, after crashing through a Roman blockade, meet Jellibabix, head of the resistance movement.
He pretends to betray the Gauls to Prefect Poisonous Fungus, but lures the Romans into a maze of back alleys (traboules), where the legionaries become hopelessly lost. Jellibabix gives the duo a parcel of Lugdunum sausages (saucisson) and quenelles, and arranges a chariot for them. At the end of the story the Lugdunum saucisson is mentioned by Obelix.
Boulangeries and more!
Good French bakeries (boulangeries) are charming, alluring places, filled with crunchy baguettes, buttery viennoiseries, decadent pastries and mouthwatering sandwiches and savory tarts. When you walk in the streets of Lyon there is always a sweet, tasty smell in the air that makes your mouth watering... it is that well known smell of freshly baked bread or croissant. There is a boulangerie in almost every building block.
The neighborhood boulangerie in France is an institution. Early in the morning, you see people flocking into boulangeries to grab that fresh baguette and the buttery croissants.
While staying in Lyon, there was a bakery at the ground floor of my apartment's building. The whole building was smelling freshly baked bread and cakes. The first day I could not understand where this alluring smell was coming from, as there was no direct connection of the bakery to my apartment.
The buildings in old parts of Lyon have a gate that faces directly on the street and inside of which there is a small (or larger) courtyard, from where you take the stairs or the elevator (if you are lucky and your building has one) to the apartments.
The second day of my stay, I stepped down early in the morning for my usual walking on the Saone river banks. When I came down into the courtyard I realized that the two big, grey, wooden doors I had noticed there the previous day, where the rooms of the bakery, where they actually baked and stored the bread (the ovens)! I realised that my holidays would be much better than I thought...
I forgot to tell you that I love bread!!!
The French often say that "the best bakery is the one closest to you". This is maybe true, but, my advice is to buy from the bakery with the longest queue.
French love bread so much that their language is full of proverbs and expressions using the word “pain” (bread): avoir du pain sur la planche, avoir son pain cuit, ca ne mange pas de pain, c'est pain beni, faire perdre a quelqu'un le gout du pain, long comme un jour sans pain, manger son pain blanc le premier... just to mention only some of them.
If you want realy good bread, always check for the seal of authenticity “Artisan Boulanger”, which means that your baker is the real deal, rather than a depot de pain, a shop that merely sells bread that was baked elsewhere.
So, for not get lost, here's a short list of breads: the "baguette ordinaire" is the cheapest option; the "baguette traditionnelle" is hand-made and has pointy ends and bumps in the loaves; the "flute" looks like a baguette, but is longer; the "ficelle", is a very thin baguette, the "baguette aux cereales", is baked with seeds and grains; the "pain de campagne" is the traditional French loaf, a thick-crusted rounded loaf with a much longer shelf-life than the baguette; the "pain complet" is a whole-grain loaf; the "pain de seigle" is a loaf of rye bread; and the "pain au levain" is sourdough bread.
If you prefer your baguette crunchy and over-baked (bien cuite), or soft (pas trop cuite), it is perfectly acceptable to ask.
Your boulangerie most probably will also bake and sell Viennoiseries. These are the flaky pastries typically enjoyed over breakfast with coffee. Originally from Vienna, these pate viennoise are made with a leavened, slightly sweetened, buttery dough that may also contain eggs. The king and queen of viennoiseries are, of course, the humble croissant and the universally beloved pain au chocolat. Pain au chocolat may also done with bread not a viennoiserie.
Of course, these days Viennoiseries are baked in every possible form and can be filled or topped with products only imagination can restrict.
We should not forget to mention “pain brioche”, which is made from a sweeter dough containing eggs, and tastes similar to challah bread. Pain brioche is not always plain, but comes also with bits of chocolate chips, sugar, or praline (I have described above the marvelous pink Lyonnais “brioche aux pralines”).
Many boulangeries are also pâtisseries (pastry shops). While each patisserie will offer its own unique creations, there’s a standard array that can be found mostly everywhere: Éclairs are a light, hollow choux pastry filled with cream of many favors and topped with different icing (chocolate, caramel, coffee, vanilla, noisette, etc.); Tartes aux fruits, which are round, miniature, open-faced fruit-tarts that come in many flavors including raspberry (framboise), strawberry (fraise) apple (pomme), rhubarb (rhubarbe); other tarts, like tarte au chocolat or tarte aux pralines or tarte tatin; Paris-Brest, which created to commemorate a cycling race between the two cities in 1891, is made with a donut-shaped choux pastry sliced in half and filled with cream of several flavors; Saint Honoré, the pastry named for the French patron saint of bakers and pastry chefs; etc,...
Of course, most boulangeries also sell the classic pastries like choux (cream puffs), madeleines, financiers, macarons, meringues and of course the beignets, the manifique french donuts either plain iced with sugar or filled with delicious jam.
Most modern boulangeries do not stick to desserts but sell a variety of savory treats like quiche or sandwiches. The big shops have also some tables and serve breakfast or a quick lunch.
And I am concluding this tasty chapter about boulangeries by telling you that the French understand the immense challenge of walking home carrying a warm loaf, and not simply gobbling it up on the spot. Le quignon (the heel of the baguette) is the name given to that chunk the buyer rips off to eat on the way home. A habit I also had, back in my young age, not involving baguettes of course, but the standard loaf of bread my mother asked me to go and buy from our local bakery, daily.
Halles Lyon-Paul Bocuse
In every city of France there are many outdoor markets or covered markets, which operate in specially built market halls (called Halles). Traditionally, though, there is a central market located in the heart of the city.
Historically, the “Halles de Lyon” was located in the Cordeliers district in the center of the city and thus was nicknamed the "belly of Lyon", like the district of “Les Halles” in Paris. That first Halles was inaugurated in 1859 and worked there for more than a century, before it moved to the district of Part-Dieu in 1971.
In 2006, the new Halles went through a thorough renovation and renamed to honor (who else?) Paul Bocuse. In its new location, the market continues the tradition of selling high quality agricultural products. Its three levels house more than 50 shops: bars, restaurants, bouchers, volaillers, charcutiers, boulangers, fromagers, pâtissiers, chocolatiers, poissonniers, etc. The “Halles de Lyon-Paul Bocuse” is very popular also among the tourists. It is easily reached as it is located not far from Part-Dieu main train station.