A gastronomic adventure in Lyon

All over France, food and wine are central to life, but nowhere in the country does this ring truer than Lyon. The city with the highest number of restaurants per person in the country, Lyon is the culinary capital of not only France but the world. It is where great chefs are born (or trained), culinary traditions are upheld, refined, and reinvented, and gourmets gather at Michelin-starred restaurants and humble holes-in-the-wall alike for a taste of the finest culinary gems they’ll ever find.


If you’re an oenophile (that is, a lover of wine), you’re probably familiar with the term terroir. In The Oxford Companion to Wine, terroir is defined as a “quintessentially French term and concept” used to describe the environmental factors, including climate, topography, soil, and sunlight, that give wine grapes their distinctive taste, flavor, and aroma. The French are firm believers in terroir, and they apply it not only to grapes, but to all food in general.

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A visit to at least one of Lyon’s many outdoor markets to sample a wide array of regional delicacies will make a true believer out of you, as well. Aside from the freshest fruits and vegetables, there are also delectable cheeses, saucissons, and yes, wines. There’s also all sorts of fish, game, and poultry, including the undisputed queen of chickens, poulet de Bresse. This bird is a testament to the value the French give to terroir in producing food of the highest quality. Fed nothing but corn, wheat, and milk produced in the region, poulet de Bresse is prized for its succulent meat with ripples of fat. Its deep, gamey flavor is perfectly complemented by the rich cream and egg yolk sauce with morels it’s traditionally served with.

For even more gourmet treats, head to Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, affectionately called the “belly of Lyon” by the locals. The city’s oldest and largest indoor market houses around 60 stalls and restaurants offering everything from spices to scallops to soufflés. Hop from stall to stall and put together a picnic basket to enjoy by the banks of the Saȏne, or lunch on oysters and champagne at one of Les Halles’ exemplary seafood restaurants.

La cuisine lyonnaise

Back in the 16th century, innkeepers began the practice of hanging a twisted bundle of straw known as bousche from their roof or on their door to invite weary workers and travellers in for some much needed rest and a hot meal. Thus the first bouchons were born, serving simple yet hearty Lyonnaise fare that filled the stomach and satisfied the soul.

Though the tradition of hanging bousches is no longer observed, bouchons remain an important part of daily life in Lyon. There are currently 70 or so of these small, family-owned restaurants in the city; at the end of a typical work day, locals come in droves to knock back a glass or two of Beaujolais and dine on rustic dishes such as tripe soup, pike quenelles (dumplings), and an assortment of charcuterie (sausages made from pig’s head, tongue, and beef called sabodet, chicken liver cakes, and more).

Bouchons are also where franc machȏns congregate every few months — usually late in the morning — to feast and blow off steam by trading bawdy jokes and belting out lusty drinking songs. Essentially, a franc machȏn is an eating and drinking society for Lyon’s menfolk, historically the city’s silk workers and other members of the working class. It is another important gastronomic tradition in Lyon, one that underscores the simple joys of sharing a meal with friends.

Les mères lyonnaises

Speaking of tradition, Lyon’s culinary customs — well-established since the Middle Ages — were honed and refined to perfection by an elite class of female cooks called les mères lyonnaises, the Mothers of Lyon. These women developed and defined Lyonnais cuisine as the world knows it today.

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The mother of all mothers is Françoise Fayolle, better known as Mère Fillioux, who came up with many of the recipes that inspired subsequent generations of chefs, both male and female, in France and throughout the world. It was, in fact, Fillioux’s recipe for artichoke bottoms with foie gras that put another mère on the culinary map, allowing her to bring a wealth of culinary masterpieces to the table and influence generations upon generations of great chefs.

In 1921, Eugénie Brazier opened the eponymous La Mère Brazier, a restaurant of sparse decor, spotless linens, and sparkling tableware. La Mère Brazier and a second restaurant, established in 1928, were awarded three Michelin stars apiece in the 1930s, making Brazier the world’s first six-star chef.

La Mère Brazier’s menu has been updated since then, but you can still enjoy many of Brazier’s most iconic dishes to this day. Revel in her own take on the aforementioned artichokes (served cold, not hot, to bring out the flavor of the foie gras) along with other classics such as chicken in half-mourning, so named because of the mourning-veil-like appearance of thick slices of black truffle beneath the diaphanous skin of a braised Bresse chicken.

Nouvelle cuisine

Many of Mère Brazier’s top students became Michelin-starred chefs themselves, including the great Paul Bocuse, the father of nouvelle cuisine. In the 1960s, Bocuse revolutionized the culinary world with his innovative style of cooking that emphasized lightness, freshness, and simplicity, breaking countless centuries-old traditions and winning many followers among younger chefs in France and abroad in the process.

Other pioneers of nouvelle cuisine include Jean and Pierre Troisgros, whose salmon with sorrel sauce has become synonymous with the culinary movement. Whereas fish was traditionally cooked to the point of drying out and served alongside starchy sides and elaborate garnishes, the Troisgros brothers’ signature dish is an ode to simplicity, featuring pink, flaky fillets of salmon floating in a delicate crème fraîche and butter sauce livened up by tart sorrel leaves and a few drops of lemon juice.

Nothing binds people better than food. Let Wheel & Anchor take you on a world-class culinary journey to Lyon and Eastern France in 2020, together with like-minded individuals who share your passion for food, travel, and adventure.

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