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What is a Lyonnaise bouchon?

April 8, 2013
Lyonnais tarte aux pralines (red praline tart) in a shop window in Lyon

If you visit Lyon, be sure to eat lunch in a Lyonnaise bouchon.

Before visiting the city of Lyon, I had never heard the French word bouchon—except as part of the name of Bouchon Bakery, Thomas Keller’s celebrated French bistro in Napa Valley, California—-but I learned in Lyon, that the word isn’t just a proper name and has several different meanings.

In a French dictionary, “cork” is the most common English translation of the word (although it is also used colloquially to describe a traffic jam). But when you walk through the old cobblestone streets of Lyon, France’s third largest city, another usage of the term bouchon will keep popping up in conversation and on restaurant signage.

Lyon is considered by many to be the gastronomic capital of France. It is here that chef Paul Bocuse began the trend toward nouvelle cuisine, a style of cooking that reverberated with chefs and diners around the world. However, Lyon is also known in the world of gastronomy because it is the only place in France that has a unique type of restaurant: the Lyonnais Bouchon. A bouchon is a small, family-run bistro that serves hearty meals.

The forbearers of these bouchons were the taverns or inns where silk merchants stopped in the 17th and 18th centuries to have a meal, clean their horses, and, perhaps, rest overnight. They derived their name because the term bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses.

Each of these restaurants typically served only one main plate, such as roast pork, cheese with herbs, sausages, or duck pate. Now these eateries, which abound throughout the city, have menus that offer many of the same traditional dishes.  Compared to nouvelle menus in the same city, these are relatively inexpensive, especially given the large meaty portions.

The Rue des Marronniers (the word for ‘chestnut” trees in French), just off Place Bellecour (the largest square in Lyon), is one of several streets in Lyon lined with bouchons on both sides of the block. We had a wonderful lunch at Chabert & Fils, where we were able to choose a fixed-price lunch from an extensive menu for 19.5 euros per person.

We started the meal off with kir (the traditional aperitif made with creme de cassis and white wine) served with fried pork rind and sausage. For my appetizer, I had tiny raviolis baked in a mild creamy blue cheese sauce that rivaled any pasta dish I had eaten in Italy; my husband had an excellent terrine of duck pate with an orange, roasted hazelnut salad. My main course was veal head and tongue, a delicacy I have loved since childhood, boiled in a casserole with potatoes, carrots and fresh herbs; my husband opted for the pork sausage with pistachio nuts and potatoes. For dessert, we enjoyed the typical fire-engine red praline tart of Lyon (tarte aux pralines).

Not all bouchons, even in Lyon, are authentic. Each year, L’Association de defense des Bouchons Lyonnais certifies those bouchons that meet its standards of authenticity. The restaurants, which number around twenty, proudly display their designation on their windows.


Read RW Apple’s 2002 story, The Bouchons of Lyon, in Saveur.


 

  • Reply
    Donna Hull
    April 8, 2013 at 2:58 pm

    Yum, I would love to dine in one of Lyon’s buchons, although I’m not so sure about veal head and tongue.

  • Reply
    Sheryl
    April 9, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    I’m with Donna. I’d go straight for the dessert!

  • Reply
    HeatherL
    April 9, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    This sounds intriguing, but probably not a place where you’d go if you’re watching your weight.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 11, 2013 at 5:46 am

      The nice thing about traveling in Europe is that all the walking allows you a few extra calories:-)

  • Reply
    Mark Spivak
    April 10, 2013 at 12:12 pm

    Terrific post, Irene—reminds us of exactly why Lyon is the gastronomic capital of France. Try getting a meal like that (at that price) in Paris!

  • Reply
    MyKidsEatSquid
    April 11, 2013 at 12:58 am

    One of my tween’s favorite dishes is lengua–beef tongue, it’s quite tender so I imagine veal would be even more so. I love all of the fresh herbs used in French cooking. Now you have me hungry!

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      April 11, 2013 at 5:48 am

      It’s great that your kids are so open to new foods, which opens to door to new cultures!

  • Reply
    Melanie
    April 11, 2013 at 1:12 am

    Charming! I’m sure the veal head was delicious.

  • Reply
    Living Large
    April 15, 2013 at 4:56 pm

    Reminds me of when we were in Germany and our daughter’s family served liver. As my mom once said, “I don’t do innards!” 🙂

  • Reply
    Mike
    August 6, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    I had so much fun reading this as I had watched reality-cooking-travel-around-the-world last year (?). And one of their stops was in Lyon where they had to reproduce the famous pike quenelle dish. And I can’t think of the famous Paul Bocuse restaurant they were at now! They menu servings you had sound absolutely amazing!:)

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 7, 2013 at 6:56 am

      We visited Lyon while on a river cruise. I’m dying to return! You can see a picture of the quenelles we tasted at a pop-up in Stockholm here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/irene-s-levine/the-cube-a-unique-popup-c_b_2057833.html

      • Reply
        Mike
        August 8, 2013 at 12:24 am

        I don’t mean to sound like like a ding bat, but you’re THAT Dr Levine?! I’ve heard of you! LOL…I mean before meeting through blogging. And I mean that in a great way, Irene! I went to that Huffington Post link and I literally said outloud, “OMG at those food pictures.” I so want one of those quenelles 🙂

  • Reply
    Cathy Sweeney
    August 8, 2013 at 1:22 pm

    I didn’t know about Paul Bocuse and nouvelle cuisine, the history of the bouchon, or even that bouchons were small bistros. Now that I do, I am ready to visit Lyon!

    • Reply
      Cathy Sweeney
      August 8, 2013 at 1:23 pm

      I mean — I didn’t know that Paul Bocuse began nouvelle cuisine in Lyon. 🙂

      • Irene S. Levine
        Reply
        Irene S. Levine
        August 8, 2013 at 4:49 pm

        I didn’t know, either, till I got there!! So wonderful to learn about foods and history in the course of traveling~

  • Reply
    Marcia
    August 8, 2013 at 4:42 pm

    This is a very interesting post, Irene. I nearly made it to Lyon when I was in France to visit a friend. Next time, I’ll definitely go.

    I didn’t know the other meaning of bouchon and wondered when I read the title what a Lyon cork had to do with food. Now I see.

    I’d be very happy with the fried pork rind and sausage – I love pork and sausage! I’ve had cow tongue and would give the veal head or tongue a try.

    • Irene S. Levine
      Reply
      Irene S. Levine
      August 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm

      Sounds like we should meet for lunch one day:-)
      Thanks for stopping by!

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