Lyon: France’s gastronomic capital

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I started writing this post from a small cafe at Pont Wilson, overlooking the Rhône river in Lyon.  We have officially been in France for slightly over a week, but it feels closer to a month – in the very best way possible. You see, ‘relaxation’ isn’t really my area of expertise.  List making, task execution and
completion are really more my raison d’etre.  However, Mikey don’t roll like that, so we’ve been a bit more helter-skelter this trip than I’m used to.  And it’s glorious.  We eat when we feel like it, we sleep when we’re tired, and we’ve been wandering the cities by foot which is totally not part of my general travel schematic, and as such I think c’est excellente.

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Most of our meals in Paris were horrifyingly expensive (18.30 € for two croissants and two coffees?  Seriously?) and not particularly remarkable, but then we moved on to Lyon….They say that Paris is the city for lovers, but that’s not true – it’s Lyon.  As soon as our train arrived in the station I felt like we were finally on the French vacation we were looking forward to.

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The city of Lyon is picturesque, flanked on one side by the Saône and on the other by Rhône.  The buildings are statuesque with charmingly ornate iron balconies evenly adorning their walls, and on two sides the landscape rambles into a mountainous range with the famous Notre Dame basillica on one peak and a Roman-Gallic amphitheater on the other.

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The old city, Vieux Lyon, is a UNESCO world heritage site, but the entire city has a peaceful joie de vivre which was an almost shocking relief after being in the frenetic energy of Paris.  We had a metro pass in the city, but it was absolutely unnecessary as we traveled around by foot and were able to walk from the far side of one river over to the other (and back!) in less than an hour.  Lyon was smaller, elegant, and exactly the speed that we were looking for.

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Lyon is famous for being the gastronomic capital of France, and it shows.  The charcuterie is absolutely outstanding.  In Lyon, there is no part of the piggie or cow which is taboo, and every bit is put to delicious use.  And…I made Mike try it all.  Our first night we dined on Entrecôte (a steak cut) with a St. Marcellin cheese sauce, and steak tartare avec frites.  Hands down the best cheese sauce that has ever passed my lips.  I asked the waiter what was in it and he said, “Uh…c’est deux – two- part St. Marcellin, est un peu de creme -some cream, et voila!” Wow.  Really.  I would sell my soul to the devil if I could eat that cheese sauce every day for the rest of my life.  In fact, I’ll be honest – I’d sell my soul to the devil if I could eat it ONE MORE TIME.

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Mike was rather hesitant about the steak tartare, but I’ve been goading him into ordering it since Paris, so he finally obliged.  The verdict?  “Mm…oh…oh, this is good. Mrrmmm…..yeah, with frites….oh GOD yes, mmmmmm…….”  Yes. I have officially succeeded in getting Mike to eat raw meat and enjoy -nay, ADORE – it.  I actually collect all these experiences in a little personal points system, and any time he refuses to eat something, I like to pull out my arsenal of delightful culinary surprise wins.  Petty, yes, but for a good cause.  Also, the steak tartare was perfectly seasoned, silky in texture, and so fresh that it practically mooed with every delicious bite.

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Lyon is also famous for their praline, and we’ve sampled the praline meringues (light as heaven but so delicious that you know the maker of that cheese sauce had a hand in it)…

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And maybe a little French napoleon with ice  cream, raspberries and meringue topping….because if you’re going to get fat, you’d better do it in style.

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On our second night in Lyon we swung by a little Brasserie in Old Lyon, and supped on the patio to enjoy the last of the beautiful weather that day.  There was a lovely view of the Basillica, lit for night.  Most of the cafes and restaurants that we’ve been to have had both a French and an English menu, which they tend to bring me before I ask (evidently ma Francais c’est pas bon!) but we didn’t have that luxury at this restaurant….so I ordered the prix fixe with plats du jour (price fixed menu with today’s selection).  This was mainly due to the starter, which I had been dying for since our plane touched French land – Andouillette sausage with puy lentils.

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The waiter looked at me skeptically and said, “C’est langue, oui?” and tapped on his outstretched tongue.  I tried not to register fear, and cheerfully replied, “Oui, le langue!  J’aime le langue! **(oh god Mike, I just ordered tongue!  Are you okay with that?)**” Mike, determined to be a warrior and join me on MOST of my adventures, agreed in the most taciturn way possible.  I believe a scowl and a nod sums it up.
The starter, Andouillette, is a specialty of Lyon.  It’s a thick, mild flavored pork sausage which is often braised or boiled and served with a warm lentil salad.  This dish came with a rich, deep brown gravy around the plate which was the perfect salty compliment to the rest of the dish.

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The tongue was a surprise dark horse victory, and testament to the fact that with the proper preparation everything can be delicious.  The beef tongue was braised in a red wine sauce until it was meltingly tender, and served with a simple side of potato braised in chicken stock and a baked tomato stuffed with peas and cheese.  The sauce for the tongue was on the side, and as near as I could taste it was just piquant red onion with a homemade mayonnaise.  Simple peasant food and absolutely, phenomenally, mouth-wateringly delicious.

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Dessert was more of Lyon’s specialty, the praline.  This time it was in the form of an ooey-gooey, buttery and sugary praline tart that almost put me into a rapturous diabetic coma.

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Mike put it best late last night, our first night in Marseille.  He put down his book, stared me straight in the eyes and said, “It’s going to be hard to top Lyon.  Definitely tough to top Lyon.”  I couldn’t agree more.

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  • http://muskegharpy.blogspot.com/ Jacquie

    Now I want to go to Lyon! You are so brave for eating du langue. Organ meat is something that seems just a bit too strange.

    Are you visiting the awesome spring markets? I’ve always read about the abundance of special spring produce–I want to say pea shoots or something like that.

  • Jan

    I’m glad you’re having such a wonderful time! And I couldn’t agree more; I’ve been getting fat in style for years.

  • L.M. Smyth

    What absolutely marvelous pictures!

    I get hungry just reading your descriptions of the meals. And tongue, if it’s prepared properly (meaning fork tender) is wonderful. It’s ugly, to be sure, but most delicious and attractive when presented properly. Raw anything doesn’t suit me but good on you for going for the Gusto! I’m so happy that you’re having a great time.

  • http://kopiaste.org Ivy

    Thanks for the virtual tour. France is such a lovely place and I regret we did not visit Lyon during our tip to Geneva. We preferred Grenoble which was closer to Geneva but which was a lovely city as well.

  • http://www.choosy-beggars.com Tina

    Jacquie – I hadn’t had tongue in years, but my grandmother used to make a delicious and totally simple dish of tongue with coarse bulghar. Maybe that’s why I was so open!! In terms of the markets, I dragged Mike to the ‘main’ market in every city that we were in, as well as the random markets we would walk by. It was simply delightful!

    Jan – Hey, if you’re going to go large you might as well enjoy it, right??!

    L.M.Smyth – I don’t know about ‘attractive’, but certainly delicious!!!

    Ivy – I have a travel bug like you wouldn’t believe. Maybe it’s because I’m turning 30 this year and it’s really sinking in about how little of our wonderful wide world I’ve seen, but I’m becoming borderline obsessed. I would LOVE to go to both Geneva and Grenoble – maybe next time?

    • Aunt Fran

      It sounds like your travel bug is not going to end soon, Kath.The first time I had tongue was at Mercy Hosp. in Chgo. No, I wasn’t there as a patient. I went for some kind of a meeting. Your descriptions of your meals are fantastic. Did you know Jesse and I were in Lyon after Paris on our first trip to Europe? That was in the 80’s. We traveled by train for 28 days. We took the train from Lyon up to Annecy for a day and then traveled to Marseille and on to Toulon to find a nudist beach. We finally found it and it was most enjoyable!

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