Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France – and for good reason. There are over 4000 restaurants in this city – and it’s the 4th most Michelin rated city in Europe.
It’s not the fine diners that we’re here for, though, but rather the bouchons. Bouchons were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used back then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. It’s also the term for a cork, and, these days, a traffic jam. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.
Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mère Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who, following la révolution, left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.
To learn more about it, we took a foodie walking tour through Vieux, or old, Lyon.
Our first stop was for fromage, ie cheese.
The extremely passionate owner had organised his cheese by region, source (ie cow, goat, sheep) and whether raw or pasteurised. We tried a number of cheeses and heard about where each came from and who made it.
Next up was charcuterie. By now we were feeling glad that we didn’t have breakfast.
We tried chaud saucisson en brochette, an assortment of salamis whose names I didn’t write down, andouilette (tripe sausage) mixed with creme fraiche and spread onto bread (bottom wight pic) and not at all like the biology lesson it was when hubby tried it the day before in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National. Having said that, I still didn’t like it. Apparently, the Lyonnaise use veal “bits” rather than pork “bits” so it’s not as stinky…whatevs. The red wine took the taste away nicely.
As we walked off some of what we’d eaten we ventured in and out of traboules. I told you about these the other day, but they are, in essence, a series of shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways that the silk workers used to get their precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa.
Silk weaving was painstaking work with some designs so intricate that it took all day to weave just 5-20cm. At this speed, a bolt of fabric could take months to weave. It’s no wonder they wanted to make sure it didn’t get wet once they had finished it!
The workers and their families lived where they worked – often in just a couple of cramped rooms.
Interestingly, the pitchers, les pichets, that they use for wine in the bouchons take just 450mls when they look like they’d hold at least 50ml more – the pitchers have a misleading false bottom. As the silk workers were often paid in wine, these false-bottomed carafes actually represented a pay cut and were the cause of some of the strikes and unrest in the late 19th century.
In a Bouchon we sampled cervelles de canuts, or silk workers brains – although it’s not really brains, just a very yummy fromage blanc based cheese dip that I’ll tell you more about another time. We also had jambon perseille – ham in aspic with parsley – and oeufs meurette – eggs in a red wine sauce. We accompanied this with another Lyonnaise classic, a communard – red wine with cassis, framboise and fraise liqueur.
Next up was an ice cream tasting. Pauline, our guide, asked us to try and guess the flavours. The first was easy – passionfruit – although the Canadian couple also on the tour had never tried passionfruit before. The things we take for granted. The second flavour we sampled was a date with orange blossom water.
Our final tasting (phew) was a praline tart that I’m sure was the inspiration for the decor in the apartment we were staying in. It was pinker than anything edible has the right to be – and just as sweet as you’d imagine.
Speaking of pink, if there is a colour that defines Lyon, it’s pink, or rose. It sounds lovely, but the colour originally came from the oxblood that they used to paint the bricks with. It doesn’t sound quite as romantic now, does it? In many cases, the colour has faded away, but in our building and others, the pale pink remains.
If you want more info about this Food Tour, here’s the link. We did the 4 hour Vieux Lyon at 70E per head.