Published on March 16th, 2015 | by Magalie Lopez0
The Flavor of “Bouchon”
There are so many wonders to discover about Lyon that I could probably write an article a month for an extended period of time. However, an absolute must is a typical Lyonnaise location. It isn’t a single place, but rather several small places mostly concentrated throughout the Croix-Rousse districts and Vieux Lyon.
Nineteen years ago, a wise and seasoned lady shared a phrase with me. I was helping her with daily tasks when she asked me if I was seeing a boy. When I replied positively, she shared with me a secret. “My child,” she said, looking at me through the thick lenses of her glasses. “A man is conquered by the heart, but he is kept by the stomach!” Today, I can guarantee you she was telling the truth!
Why am I writing about this in this article? Well, it’s simple – Lyon will conquer you by the heart and keep you by the stomach as soon as you set foot, hand, and the fork in one of his famous “Bouchons.”
Prior to unveiling some of the amazing wonders that will surely delight you, here’s a little history.
First, why such a name? Several theories have been advanced: the most obvious, which is also the least likely, is that the name is derived from the cork that closes the wine bottles, but the wine is served in pots in Lyon bouchons!
(Maybe insert some sort of quick explanation that a bouchon is a treat/restaurant, but also means cork. In English, I don’t think that there is any direct translation, and I’m not sure that anglophiles who have not heard of the dessert will understand the reference).
The second is a little more technical and argues that the shapes take their name from the straw that was available to travelers on horseback at inns to give their horses a quick rub-down. Again, it seems that isn’t the right explanation.
The explanation most likely is that the word comes from Lyonnais local dialect and is derived from the word “bousche” meaning “bundle of branches.” This bouquet of ivy, or broom, was attached to the taverns in the old regime to differentiate between inns.
To find other reasons behind the origin of the word, we must return to the time of the silk workers. These workers toiled through the night and into the morning. By 9am, they were starving ! They introduced the “mâchon,” a snack made of leftovers (to avoid waste) and pork products. They would eat in a bistro or in their workshops, but never in a restaurant since they weren’t yet open so early in the day. Since their insertion into the Cross Rousse neighborhood – where the Canuts worked – the bouchons haven’t changed. More widespread than ever, they are run in almost the same manner – the women work in the kitchen and the men in the basement. While there is no longer a Canut presence today, their tradition of the “machon” continues. In the bouchons, when the clock strikes 10am, one often finds customers eating sausage accompanied by small red ball.
These bouchons are truly places out of time.
They are small restaurants in which you feel as comfortable as at home. Tables are close together, some large tables covered with beautiful checkered tablecloths. The decor consists of copper pans, old posters on the walls, and old wooden furniture. You may have the impression of being in a flea market as the decor will seem disparate and old, but that is the charm of the bouchon.
Another trait of the bouchon is how the owner treats his customers. Always authentic and never hiding behind the impersonal veil of customer service, one might assume that the amenities are subpar. On the contrary, the atmosphere is as if you are visiting with friends and family – as warm as if you were at home.
But, more importantly: “What’s for dinner?”
The kitchen of the bouchon is simple, good, and hearty.
It is a traditional cuisine prepared with local produce purchased at the Halles de Lyon, the National Interest Market Corbas and in local markets.
In the days of the Silk workers are already avoiding waste, we ate the entire product and cooks had to learn to prepare strange ingredients, like the blood and insides of pigs, liver, kidneys and feet of calves, oxen tongue, etc.
Though it does not sound particularly appetizing, if you try the food, you will come back for more. Believe me, I’ve been there. At the table !
Start with a communard and some crackling, the first being a glass of Beaujolais mixed with black currant liqueur and the latter are pieces of fried pork fat (it’s much better than it sounds).
Then comes the Lyon sausage (cooked sausage), chicken liver cake, a small Lyonnaise salad made with beef snout, double fat (tripe), and red carrots (beets) or dandelions.
As main course, try some quenelle de brochet in Nantua sauce, a little apple pudding, sausage in a white wine, tripe, amourettes, brioche sausage, sweetbreads, or chicken with vinegar.
There is a delicious weaver brain, though it has nothing to do with what you would find under a skull. It’s an edible dish made with fresh cheese.
After washing down your meal with 46cl (no more no less) of Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône, it’s time for dessert. It’s your choice between praline pie or bugnes !
Before you diving in, I know strongly advise you to choose your bouchon among those labeled “The Bouchons.” They can be found by clicking this link: http://www.lesbouchonslyonnais.org/restaurants/
“Mâchonnez” well and enjoy!
Head photo: Lyoncapitale.fr