Find out why Lyon has been known as the world’s food capital for some 80 years with these top 10 facts on Lyon’s gastronomy.
Not only is Lyon amazingly beautiful but for some 80 years Lyon has also been recognised as the food capital of France and the world. In 1935, famed French food critic Curnonsky, dubbed the Prince of Gastronmy, described the city of Lyon as the ‘world capital of gastronomy’. If you ever find yourself in Lyon, you are obliged to test, try and enjoy the food, and you’ll truly learn about the origins of a common passion in France – a love of French food.
Lyon is the ideal place to discover French cuisine and to fall in love with it. With more than 1,500 eateries, Lyon city has one of the highest concentrations of restaurants per capita in France. In the 21st century, Lyon’s simple and high-quality cuisine has been exported to other parts of France and abroad.
Lyon is an amazing place: a big, modern and historic city. It’s full of authentic French people who have their own way of communicating but are lovely, funny and chatty, adding to the city’s charm. But instead of praising Lyon for its beauty and importance as a French city, here are 10 reasons why it’s renown as the capital of gastronomy.
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1. Because of its location
Lyon is surrounded by some of the finest raw materials in France and has become the hub for a variety of ingredients and top-quality regional products. Summer vegetables come from farms in Charolais, lake fish from Savoy, game from the Dombes, the best pork from Monts du Lyonnais, and spring fruits and vegetables from Drôme and Ardèche. Plus you can get quality wines in Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley, not to mention the array of local cheeses. And the ‘royalty’ of chickens come from Bresse, and of course Bresse gave origin to the tasty Bresse Bleu fromage! Could you really ask for more?
2. Because of the famous Les Halles de Lyon
This is a reknowned, prestigious indoor market which was created in 1971, and renovated and renamed in honour of top French chef Paul Bocuse in 2006. It can be expensive but if you are looking for the best regional products listed above or simply want to eat lunch or dinner, you will find what you need here. It is also worth visiting Les Halles de Lyon because Mr Bocuse can sometimes be seen chatting to traders and his suppliers. It’s easily accessible in central Lyon next to Part Dieu – another place you need to visit.
3. Because of the outdoor markets
Lyon is well known for its plentiful markets, which are a great alternative to Les Halle de Lyon. They are where savvy people can find very good quality regional products at a bon price. One of the best is on Boulevard de la Croix-Rousse. Situated on a steep hill, the market offers not only the very freshest regional products but also amazing views. Another popular market is Saint Antoine Farmers Market, which is open every day except Monday and farmers set up their market tables along the banks of the Saône River. It’s a great authentic way to discover how French people value food and see the Lyon art of selling cheese, wine, and saucisson.
4. Because of Lyonnaise specialities
It’s hard to begin as there are so many Lyonnaise specialities in each area. Lyon is all about rustic, rich French food, and is famous for a number of unique meals: think about a smoky pork sausage with pistachios served on a dollap of mashed potatoes with a cream sauce, or a brochette of foie gras, or a colourful macaron, and obviously the well-known to all, quenelles, typically a mixture of creamed fish (image below). Then there are the very typical Lyonnaise saucissons and its varieties. When it comes to cheese, Lyon offers the St-Marcellin and St-Félicien varieties from nearby Isère.
5. Because Lyon has been home to many top chefs
Lyon has always been an attractive place for chefs to settle and develop their skills, not least for the ‘mothers of Lyon’ who were the iconic women behind the creation of Lyon’s bouchons (traditional restaurants) and the city’s culinary reputation. It started with Mère Fillioux, who opened her own bistro and was the first ‘mother’ to gain a wide reputation, and later taught the craft to the even more famous Mère Brazier, the very teacher of our great Bocuse. This pattern has continued, and nowadays there are the famous Georges Blanc, Mathieu Viannay, Christian Têtedoie, Lacombe and Orsi, to name just a few, who still hold the banner high for French gastronomy. Lyon also attracts many creative young spirits, such as Sébastien Bouillet, or rising stars, such as Le Bec, Viannay, and Ezgulian. Increasingly there are more and more chefs appearing in Lyon, learning crafts from the best restaurants and the local schools such as the L’Institut Paul Bocuse and L’École Vatel.
They offer training in hospitality, food service and culinary skills, and the apprentiships you can do in Lyon’s top restaurants provide some the best culinary experience one can gain.
6. Because Lyon has bouchons
A bouchon is a unique type of restuaurant that is only found in Lyon. They are a part of Lyonnaise history and are usually small, family-owned bistros that serve a specific type of cuisine, have a specific atmosphere, as well as a typical decor. According to one French language school, the word buchon didn’t exist in any other French town.
They serve really heavy, homemade foods, stemming from the recipes the mothers of Lyons served to the silk workers.
7. Because Lyon maintains its rich culinary traditions
On top of well-known Lyonnaise culinary traditions such as bouchons and Meres de Lyon (mothers of Lyon) recipes, Lyon also supports and continues the city’s great tradition of mâchon. Does it sound mysterious? Mâchon is a type of meal served in the morning (before lunchtime) but it is a heavy meal. It can start with pate, followed by a meaty main course topped with a sauce, and finished off with some cheese. The tradition of mâchon comes directly from the canutes – the silk weavers of the Croix-Rousse were coming back from night shifts hungry and they stopped by the local bars to share a meal. Nowadays, there is even a philanthropic organisation in Lyon for the encouragement and knowledge of mâchon called Franc Machons, which has awarded honorary diplomas to about 50 institutions that entitles them to organise and serve those meals. An example includes Chez les Gones restaurant, which starts serving from 9am a three-course meal that usually includes pâté, followed by andouillette with mustard sauce and cheese to finish, accompanied by a glass of Côtes du Rhône.
8. Because of the Pope of French Cuisine
You have probably already heard about the renown French chef Mr Bocuse, who has been dubbed the Pope of French cuisine. He is an exceptional chef who introduced Lyon to the whole and the world to nouvelle cuisine. It is a style of cooking that is characterised by lighter, delicate dishes and an increased focus on the presentation of the food. You could say he broke the rules of the Lyonnaise bouchons (very heavy meals) – and succeeded.
9. Because of the quality and number of top restaurants, boulangeries, patisseries and chocolatiers
More than 1,500 good restaurants, 13 awarded the prestigious Michelin Stars, and the highest numbers of restaurants per inhabitant in France – there’s no shortage of culinary establishments in this gastronomic centre of experimentation and innovation. Besides that, there are many authentic places to eat, such as century-old brasseries or the traditional bouchons (traditional Lyonnaise restaurants); a good example is the often full Bouchon des Filles, where you won’t get a menu but the owner will tell you what they serve. Outside of the restaurant scence are more Lyonnaise food gems – the dedicated charcuteries, fromageries, chocolatiers, boulangeries, vienniesseniers, cremeries and more. Some recommendations include the charcuteries Bonnard and Sabilia, the fromagerie Galland (Croix-Rousse), the tasty boulangerie/patisserie Jocteur, the chocolatier Bernachon, and for eggs, La Crèmerie Lyonnaise.
10. Because Lyon has Sirha
Sirha was founded in Lyon in 1983 and is the biggest professional and international trade fair dedicated to food service and hospitality. Since then, Lyon has been responsible for gathering together the best in the gastronomy industy, thus SHIRA has become important for networking and discovering new trends – and a great event for the public to taste-test new foods. There are 17 professional competitions during Sirha, including the very prestigious international ones like Bocuse d’Or and Coupe du Monde de la Pâtisserie.
Now you will likely be tempted to come and experience some of France’s best cuisine. Bon appetite!