The city of Lyon is the third largest city in France, next to the country’s capital Paris and Marseilles. The land is divided by two great rivers, the Saone and the Rhone, which gives the city a very unique look. Lyon is also famously known as the gastronomic capital of France. The city boasts of numerous restaurants, also known as ‘bouchons’ (don’t ask me how to pronounce that), that offer a smorgasbord of dishes that’s sure to satisfy any craving you might have.
For many months, I called Lyon my home away from home and luckily got to know the ins and outs of the charming city. It seems like fate for someone like me (= fat) to have been assigned to work in a city like this. In a city peppered with bouchons tempting you with all the wonderful smells wafting from their kitchens as you walk past, eating in seems like a waste of a meal. Picking one restaurant to go to from all the choices available to you is another dilemma altogether (this could be/could have been remedied by Zomato, if they already had a database for France).
Like any city in France, and most of Europe, bread is a major player in this city. Breakfast is heaven if you live near a bakery where the scent of freshly baked breads with (loads of) butter is sure to entice you to wake up early. Croissants, pain au chocolat, chouquettes, les amandes and baguettes are typical breakfast breads and are available at your corner bakery store. I (almost shamefully) recall that period when, like a child, I refused to eat anything but pain au chocolat for breakfast.
If Filipinos love their rice, the French love their bread. Breads are not only breakfast noms, they’re eaten throughout the day as well. One of their staple sandwiches is the Croque Monsieur or Madame, depending on your gender preference (I kid). I wrote about it in detail on this blog awhile back. You can read about it here- Croque Madame at the Louvre.
Breads can also serve as an appetizer, you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant that does not provide a basket of bread on your table. I adore rice to death but I grew to love breads as a part of most meals in France.
Speaking of appetizers, it is almost customary to have a at least a three-course meal. Except in McDonald’s of course, which you already know from reading this post from long ago- McDonalds of the World: Royal Bacon in France. In Lyon, and perhaps for most of France, a meal is not complete without an appetizer, an entree, and a dessert, sometimes adding an extra dish of cheese or two in between to make it a four/five-course dinner.
Although salads are usually served as an appetizer, the famous salad from Lyon aptly called Salade Lyonnaise can be, and usually is, served as a main entree. Although it has a lot of greens, I don’t think this can be classified as healthy, as the greens to bacon ratio is almost at 1:1. If you order a Menu Lyonnaise from any restaurant, usually a three-course set meal, one of them would surely be the Salade Lyonnaise. Best paired with a glass of wine (like everything else in the whole wide world).
Healthy or not, this is a dish I fell in love with right off the bat. I even attempted to replicate it as soon as I got back to Manila. I gushed about it on this blog twice already- Mama Caroni Three Course Menu Lyonnaise, and Rainbow Salads of Jardin de Berthe.
The French also have unusual tastes, but none of them are as crazy as the ones Pinoys cook up- balut, isaw, and betamax to name a few. Like in Manila, it is not uncommon for the French to eat snails, although they call it escargot. Another specialty is Cuisses de Grenouille à la Provençale, or frog legs sautéed in butter. Yet another unusual favorite is foie gras, or fattened liver of a force fed goose, usually served as a pâté. Okay, I take it back, the goose liver is just as crazy.
Admittedly, I’m not as adventurous in exotic noms as others are, and don’t try as many weird noms as many do. But of those I’ve tried, I truly enjoyed the foie gras pâté. It is rich and creamy rather than pungent, and far less liver-y than the more common chicken or pork liver pâtés.
The first time I had lunch with a few French colleagues, they told me about the beef bourguinon. I’ve heard of it before but honestly never bothered with it, it is generally French beef stew and we have plenty good ‘uns in Manila. When they told me that it takes hours and hours to cook it over really low heat, I was amazed how some people have the patience to cook that long. Later on, I
forced asked my mom to cook it when she came over to visit me (hehe).
Cubes of beef shank is marinated with potatoes and carrots in a sauce of garlic, onion, tomato paste, red wine, and a bouquet garni (a bunch of herbs usually with bay leaf, parsley, and thyme). It is then cooked veeerrry slowly over low heat. After several hours, you get a tasty stew with melt-in-your-mouth hunks of beef. It is excellent with a heaping cup of soft, white rice (it’s an Asian thing).
In Lyon (as it should be everywhere), dessert is an integral part of every meal. Fast foods, restaurants, and even home-cooked meals are never without dessert. There are always a lot of dessert options wherever you are- be it a bowl of fruit, a cup of yogurt, some chocolate mousse, or tiramisu.
Whew! If you get to this part, I’m giving you Internet cookies (and bacon). It couldn’t have been easy to read that extra long story.. and it isn’t done yet.
I just want to tell you a little about coffee and wine in Lyon. We know that France is especially known for their wines, and rightfully so. I’m no wine connoisseur but their wines are wonderfully smooth and strong. A huge selection (and number) of wines is usually found in groceries and in most restaurants- in Lyon, drinking wine is as common as drinking a glass of soda.
As is coffee. Although Pinoys are no strangers to coffee, in Manila it is more of a choice if you want to have some or not. We usually drink a cup in the morning to shake off the sleep, or after dinner, to help with digestion. In Lyon, drinking coffee after a meal is already a given. All meals are capped with a cup of coffee, and it is almost considered weird if you don’t.
Although the French have a reputation for being kind of rude and not very hospitable, from experience, it’s not as bad as the stereotype. In fact, it’s not bad at all. If you’re traveling to France, all you need is to know to say ‘bonjour’, ‘bonsoir’, and ‘merci’ in the proper French accent and with a smile, and you’re all set. In Lyon, find a good ‘bouchon’ and sit back, break bread, sip wine, and enjoy the scenery around you . Make sure you visit Lyon in December when they celebrate Fête des Lumières and magnificent light displays are all over town. It’s a gorgeous city (and only a couple of hours away by train from Paris) with gorgeous people and gorgeous noms.