“If Paris is the heart of France, Lyon is her stomach.” -An old saying by someone who obviously appreciates food as much as we do.
Almost everyone I know has been to Paris, but I can only think of one or two people who have been to Lyon. Or, maybe my friends and family have visited Lyon, but failed to mention it to me. But, I don’t know how anyone could possibly keep quiet about this fantastic city with so much to offer. One of its best offerings is food and you know how I loves me some food so, I’ll talk about that first.
Did you know that Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France? That’s like being the gastronomic capital of the world because we all know that French cuisine is the bombdiggity. For non-English speakers, that means French food is excellent.
Traditional Lyonnaise cuisine consists of many animal parts that most Americans wouldn’t dream of eating – chitterling, tripe, brain, and various other internal organs. And, the best place to get traditional Lyonnaise cuisine is at one of the twenty or so officially certified bouchons in the city. We decided to visit one that was recommended by a friend, Au Petit Bouchon Chez Georges, and it lived up to our gut-busting expectations. It was the first time we tried quenelle, a traditional creamed fish dumpling, served with some kind of creamy sauce. I can’t say that I’m a fan of this dish. We also had braised calf cheeks which I loved. So soft and tender with a rich beefy flavor. I had a very rich chocolate tart for dessert and Kanako opted for cheese so they gave her a wheel of Saint Marcelin cheese that should be for two people.
Even though I’m talking about food here, I feel that I need to mention that I had my first squat toilet experience in Lyon, France. I expected to encounter and have to use a squat toilet in South Korea or Russia, but I somehow managed to avoid them for this long. But, I couldn’t avoid it any longer. I would’ve never guessed that my first time would be in France and at a restaurant, no less! Anyway, I had to visit the ladies’ room to powder my nose after lunch so I asked the friendly, English-speaking waitress to direct me to the bathroom. She led me to the bathroom since it was in a hallway behind a locked door, but she thought she would be funny and pointed to the stairs and told me it was six flights up. Then she smiled and said she was kidding. She opened the door to the toilet and it was a squat style. I asked her to stay and hold my hand while I peed since I’d never used a squat toilet before. HAHAHHAHA! I love messing with the locals.
If you don’t want to gain 10lbs from one lunch, then you can go to the famous Les Halles de Lyons Paul Bocuse and stuff your face with surprisingly fresh raw oysters, extremely tasty shrimp and a glass of crisp white wine. Or, you could buy all of the ingredients needed to make a delicious three-course meal of your own at any of the specialty shops in the market. Some of the fresh food for sale here is excellent enough on its own that you could probably win a Michelin star just unwrapping it and putting it on a plate.
Another alternative to the rich, traditional Lyonnaise cuisine is the French haute cuisine that can be found at many top-notch restaurants for surprisingly reasonable prices. Upon recommendation from one passionate Lyon local, we tried a French restaurant owned by a star Japanese chef, Takao Takano. We went for lunch and had a delicious three-course meal for under $100. It was a splurge for us since we’re without income on this trip, but it was worth it.
Besides having easy access to some of the freshest food ingredients, Lyon is also in the heart of the Beaujolais and Côte du Rhone wine regions. I can’t comment too much on wine since the extent of my wine vocabulary consists of “good” and “not so good, but I’ll drink it,” but oenophiles say these areas make great wines so I’m sure that adds to Lyon’s gastronomic reputation. And, we did have some “good” wine for quite cheap while we were there.
I’ll elaborate on Lyon’s non-food fun in my next post.