Lyon is the city of contrasts where old and new exist in perfect harmony. From the narrow streets of Old Lyon to the vibrant colors of the suburbs, from the golden statue of Holy Mary in Notre Dame to the myriads of restaurants, bouchons, and boulangeries below. All I wanted to do is to rent a bike and explore the tastes and flavors the city can offer. And now I will share my thoughts about the kitchen in Lyon with you.
Lyon’s culinary roots date back to the times of silk mills and ever busy housewives – les mères – that cooked food for their husbands and sons. These resourceful women came up with inventive recipes, like the first one in our list – the beef tripe. It seems like every Lyon family has its own unique recipe. Prepared from a sliced cow stomach stewed in the oven for at least six hours with mustard, cream, and onions – it is indeed an ageless classic.
The long stew gives the tripe a unique mushroom, almost jelly texture, and a very creamy flavor. A side dish of boiled or baked potatoes will complement the dish turning tripe into a perfect lunch or a very hearty dinner. Café des Fédérations is the place where you can have this tasty traditional dish and appreciate efficient and friendly service.
Here’s a real delicacy! Bresse chickens are wild range chickens bred in the Bresse region and famous for the tenderness of the meat. The oomph of the dish, however, comes from the unique combination of chicken and lobster that go together extremely well. Typically for the Lyon cuisine, the recipe is simple but requires precision and timing. The chicken is boiled for an hour, then gutted and roasted in the oven. Then the chicken is slightly glazed from both sides on a pan.
Traditionally local crayfish are used for the dish, but some posh places prefer to use British lobster instead. The chicken is served with shallot, mushrooms, and asparagus. The taste is truly unique and very homely. A glass of local white wine was a must for me.
I've read somewhere that Lyon is famous for preparing and serving seafood with aplomb. Local fish platters, or fishermen’s platters – are a must for any seafood enthusiast. Oysters, shrimps, urchins, and whelks neatly spread on an ice-covered tray with lemon slices and sauces are heavenly delicious.
If you’re a novice – start with fin de Claire oysters with lemon, vinegar, and onions. These oysters are bread in the mixture of salty and fresh water in the Claires which makes them a tender texture and an almost sweet taste. Most of the seafood is French produces – straight from the Atlantic coast. But even if they serve Madagascar shrimps, quite popular in recent years – you can be sure that the seafood is fresh and tastes phenomenal.
Here’s another French staple. The meat pie is made with pate, foie gras, and sweet bread. The dough for the crust is made from flour, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and butter. The dough is spread on a tall tray and the filling of chicken liver, onions, mushrooms, veal slices, pork neck, thyme, nuts and foie gras is added. The tray then is covered with a layer of dough and the dish goes into the oven. The final step is nigh in the freezer and viola – the meat pie is ready!
The pie looks like a loaf of bread and is served in slices – one at a time. All the ingredients are locally produced and the pie is delicious beyond belief. Some say that you shouldn’t eat the bread crust as its main purpose is to preserve the taste of the meat. Well, let’s just say it’s hard not to munch up on everything.
The Arctic char is a seasonal dish, but it’s worth a try. The fish comes from the ponds of a nearby region and is served with boiled young carrots, turnips, onions, spices and a special sauce. The Char has a very thin skin, so it has to be prepared last. Slightly fried in olive oil it has a very distinct an authentic taste. The only downside, perhaps, is that Char is a very bony fish, but in skillful hands of a real chef, the problem becomes nonexistent.
Arctic Char is the ultimate spring dish and when put before you – it screams with spring colors: yellow, orange and green. It goes well on its own, but the true connoisseurs say that to truly capture that regional taste – you almost have to ask for a plate of Bresse frogs.
Some say that there’s nothing harder than cooking simple dishes. The roasted duck or canette can be a great example. The fresh duck is cut, slightly fried on a pan and braised in the oven, then the pieces are sliced and sprinkled with sea salt and spices. The true masterpiece, however, is the side.
In some restaurants, for instance, the dish is served with marinated and caramelized turnip which opens the taste of the duck and provides vibrant and piquant notes. The delicate, almost veal-like texture of the duck is something out of this world! The dish might be slightly unorthodox but definitely deserves a try.
Veal brains are definitely not for everyone, but in Lyon, it is a very popular dish. The recipe is very simple – they use loads of butter, parsley, spices and fresh veal brains of course. The chefs know to wash and clean the brains thoroughly – otherwise, the blood in the cracks will clot during cooking making the dish extremely unappealing. The brains then are spiced, breaded in plain flour and fried on a pan in butter. To finish up a generous amount of chopped parsley is added on top.
Strangely enough, when put aside the thought of eating brains – the dish is very good. The flour breading contributes to a golden crunchy crust. The inside is very tender and practically melts in your mouth, leaving a very pleasing aftertaste, and parsley helps to tie up the taste bouquet. A nice side dish of pasta is almost mandatory.
Praline-based desserts have been a calling card for the City of Lyon since 1950’s, but the definitive one must be the praline pie. The dough for this delicious pastry is very basic – just flour, butter, powdered sugar, and eggs. The key is to let it cool in the fridge overnight. The topping is made by boiling a mixture of praline (sugar-coated almonds) and cream. The rolled out dough then cut into circles, baked and covered by praline.
The praline pie is often called “the taste of Lyon” and rightfully so. The pastry crumbles in your hands making you eat it piece by piece. The dough makes a satisfying crunch with every bite and the creamy praline goodness melts in your mouth. All you need now is a hot cup of cappuccino!
Choux, or brewed cakes with hundreds of flavors have been popular in France since the time of Ekaterina Médicis. When baked, the brewed dough rises, leaving an empty center and making it easy to stuff it with anything you want. Chocolate cream fill-ins are extremely popular in Lyon. Then comes the variety of toppings! Chocolate, salty caramel, lemon meringue, and praline are just a few of popular options.
Lyonnais love their choux! The dessert is sold practically everywhere, making it an ideal companion for a coffee break and a great conversation starter. Leaving Lyon – don’t forget to buy a box for the nearest and dearest, as a proof that you understand what being French really means.
These are just a few places and dishes waiting for you in Lyon, but why stop here? Hundreds of other delicacies are waiting to be discovered! Thousands of big and small places open their doors to share their secrets every day. From now – it’s up to you. I will come back to this calm seaside town for sure. It was a great pleasure for me to plunge into the atmosphere of beautiful local restaurants and friendly happy people.