A guide to the best foodie spots in the city
Famously described by Curnonsky in 1935 as “the world capital of gastronomy”, Lyon is a must on any self-respecting foodie’s gourmet tour of France.
With more than 4,000 restaurants, prestigious culinary schools, a world-class museum of gastronomy and exquisite wines on its doorstep, it makes for a mouthwatering city break all year round. Here’s our whistle-stop tour of some of its highlights.
The Mères Lyonnaises
In the 19th-century, it was women who were at the helm of some of Lyon’s most popular kitchens. These domestic cooks, who’d often worked for grand families, set up their own businesses, serving simple, generous dishes made from cheap cuts, such as tablier de sapeur (tripe in breadcrumbs) and andouillette (a famously stinky pork sausage).
The movement took off following the First World War when many more great houses let their staff go, leaving women to carve out new careers. Among the most famous of the Mères was Eugénie Brazier, who in 1933 became the first person to be awarded six Michelin stars. La Mère Brazier, in rue Royale, today holds two stars under chef Mathieu Viannay. Michelin’s inspectors describe it thus: “In a magnificent hybrid decor, 1930s stained glass windows and mouldings are blended with Saarinen Tulip chairs (a bold design move!) and the chef pays a vibrant tribute to the iconic dishes once served on the premises (Bresse chicken with truffles, crispy pike bread, a stunning Grand Marnier soufflé), infusing them with his talent and novel ideas.”
As well as gastronomy, Lyon is famous for its silk trade, and the canuts (silk workers) of the 17th and 18th centuries in turn fed the city’s culinary history. They would dine on local hearty fare in traditional eateries called bouchons. Today, authentic bouchons are awarded the label ‘Les Bouchons Lyonnais’ and if you want to make sure you’re dining in the real deal, check out the list of official bouchons.
Among the specialities you will find at a bouchon, the mâchon is one that every visitor to Lyon should taste. Eaten at 9am, as Lyon’s canuts used to do, the meal is mainly made up of charcuterie washed down with Beaujolais wine.
A student of the aforementioned Eugénie Brazier, Paul Bocuse (1926-2018) was one of France’s most celebrated chefs. A proponent of nouvelle cuisine, as well as being a multi-award-winning chef in his own right, he also trained many of the country’s most prominent chefs. As well as his main restaurant, L’Auberge du Pont de Collonges, he ran a chain of brasseries in Lyon. The city’s covered market, Les Halles Paul Bocuse, is named after ‘Monsieur Paul’, as he was affectionately known, and is the place to go to stock up on local gourmet delights! The annual Bocuse d’Or competition is considered the world championship for chefs.
Winemaking is also a key part of Lyon’s rich gastronomy. To the north of the city, the famous Beaujolais region produces wines for everyday enjoyment as well as for laying down. To the east lies a small 300-hectare appellation – Les Coteaux du Lyonnais. Secluded and experimental, this AOC offers amazing variety. To the south, you will find prestigious names such as Condrieu and Cotes Rôties. A bit further away, the wines of Savoy, Bugey and the Rhône Valley, among others, complete the picture.
Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie de Lyon
This is an absolute must for anybody who is remotely interested in food. The Cité Internationale de la Gastronomie puts the spotlight on culinary pleasures, healthy eating, well-being and the French art de vivre in the beautiful setting of the historic Grand Hôtel-Dieu building. The ‘gastronomic meal of the French’, which is on UNESCO’s list of Intangible Cultural Heritage, is one of the main themes covered, along with the history of Lyon’s gastronomy.
Culinary calendar of events
There are food-related events all year round in Lyon, such as the Lyon Street Food Festival and the Chinese food festival, Les Baguettes Magiques. All of these events, plus wine tastings, culinary workshops and restaurant openings, are listed in a dedicated culinary calendar.
Lyon Culinary Glossary
Some of the foodie delights (and horrors!) you’ll come across during a visit to France’s capital of gastronomy…
Andouillette de Lyon: cooked pork belly sausage spiced with onions, parsley
Bugnes: thin and fried sugary batter
Cervelas truffé: short sausage somewhat like baloney, with truffles and pistachio
Cervelle de Canut: whipped cottage cheese, with garlic and chives
Coussin de Lyon: sweet made from chocolate and almonds paste
Gâteau de foie de volaille: chicken liver soufflé served in tomato sauce
Grattons: pork fat, fried and dried, served as an appetiser
Museau de boeuf: beef muzzle with chopped onions and vinaigrette
Pot Lyonnais: 46 cl bottle with thick bottom used to serve wine in restaurants
Praline: sweet made from almonds wrapped in cooked sugar
Quenelles: dumplings flavoured with fish, poultry, morels or truffles
Rosette: cured pork sausage flavoured with spices and a hint of garlic
Sabodet: pork sausage made from the pig’s head
Saint-Marcellin: cheese made from cow’s milk
Salade Lyonnaise: salad with bacon cubes, egg and croutons
Tablier de sapeur: beef, veal or pork tripe coated with breadcrumbs
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