• Pauline Rotsaert

A ballad in my dear city : Lyon, between gastronomy and history

This month I’d like to take you on a ballad through my beloved childhood town, Lyon.

Many will argue the strict geographical location of it: people from the North will tell you it’s in the South and vice-versa. We can just all agree that Lyon is in the East, in the Rhône-Alpes region, and fairly close to the Alps. For the little anecdote, I used to live up hill and when we’re able to see clearly the beautiful white coat of the Mont Blanc, it’s a sign of rain.

Located at the confluence of two rivers, the Saône and the Rhône cross each other in a “Y” shape in the middle of the city and give it it’s current spelling, Lyon.

Across the history of humanity, it seems that there has been traces of people at all ages in Lyon. The prehistoric men, the Gauls, the Roman empire, the first French kings to the Nazi occupant have found in this place the right spot to build up their capital. All those influences turned the city into a giant melting pot, where many civilisations have left their marks.

The Roman’s grasp

In Lugdunum, as the Romans baptised it first, you can still visit the stunning remains of the antic theatre, where it’s still organised an amazing summer festival “Les Nuits de Fourvière”, combining theater, dance, movies screenings, and concerts. All along the year, you can experiment with the incredible acoustic and visit the adjacent Gallo-Roman Museum.

Luxury, revolt, and cinema

The silk’s manufacturing takes a great part in the city’s heritage. For centuries, Lyon has been the European capital for the creation of the luxurious fabric.

In the 19th century, the silk workers called “canuts” were primarily found in the Croix-Rousse hill (Tour de France 2020 anyone?). The canuts were subject to extremely poor working conditions. On this account, they staged many worker uprisings, known as the Canut revolts. The first revolt, in October 1831 is considered to be one of the first worker uprisings.

The ‘canuts’ sprung out other great Lyon’s symbols and gastronomy:

Laurent Mourguet was an unemployed canut when he created the character Guignol and his eponymous puppet show for children, supposedly in his own image.

Cervelle de canut (lit. silk worker's brains) is a cheese spread/dip, a Lyonnais speciality. The dish is a base of fromage blanc, seasoned with chopped herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar.

Did you know that Lyon is also the hometown of the Lumière brothers, inventors and pioneer manufacturers of photographic equipment who devised an early motion-picture camera and projector called the Cinématographe (“cinema” is derived from this name). Auguste Lumière and his brother Louis Lumière created the film “La Sortie des ouvriers de l’usine Lumière” (“Workers Leaving the Lumière Factory”, 1895), which is considered the first motion picture.

You can visit the Institut Lumière and see the warehouse, the Villa Lumière and all the brothers' inventions.

A worldwide renown gastronomy

As a ‘lyonnaise’, I’m proud to say that Lyon is the gastronomy capital. Lyonnaise cuisine history is a crossroads of many regional culinary traditions. A surprising variety of ingredients from many nearby places emerged from it: summer vegetables from farms in Bresse and Charolais, game from the Dombes, lake fish from Savoy, spring fruits and vegetables from Drôme and Ardèche, and wines from Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley.

The great chef Paul Bocuse was based in Lyon and opened his restaurant located and named after the fourth points cardinals.

But the real Lyon’s gastronomic experience remains “Le bouchon”. A typical bouchon is not on haute cuisine but, rather, a convivial atmosphere and a personal relationship with the owner. You’ll find long tables (or nowadays singles) covered with a checked tablecloth, get a jug of Beaujolais and start your immersion into the classic Lyonnaise’s cuisine.

What’s on the menu then? Here I made you a little taste :

Start with a “salade lyonnaise” : lettuce (frisee) , lardons (fine chopped slices of bacon), croutons, mustard dressing, and a poached egg), or if you feel adventurous, a tripe soup!

Then, move along with an andouillette assorted offal gratin, or a “tablier de sapeur” . One of my personal favorites is the “quenelle au brochet”: kind of a ground fish “dumpling” baked with a yabby sauce.

You think it’s finished? Haha no! Now it’s time for cheese... You have the choice between Saint-Marcellin, Saint-Félicien, Rigotte de Condrieu or a Cervelle des Canuts.

A for the sweet tooth polishing, have a slice of praline tart, or some bugnes (small doughnuts).

In our next article, I’ll be highlighting one of my favorite Lyon’s sweets : la Praline! Whether it’s in pie, in a brioche (saint genix) or by itself, I’ll tell you all about this pink deliciousness.

Where to get your next French treat?

If this reading whets your appetite, you can come find us on the weekend at your local farmers' markets in Torquay and Melbourne! Visit our website on the “market” page to check where we will be next (=> link!)

Last but not least! Our online shop is open every day! We’ll be very happy to prepare your favourite treats and if you are in Melbourne or any locked area, we are happy to discuss home delivery!


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