A Francophile’s guide to navigating le bouchon lyonnais like a local
And they are right to do so; it’s a delicious way to discover Lyon’s extraordinary food history.
To avoid tourist traps and order like a local we’ve put together this guide with des petits conseils…
What to expect in a French bouchon?
Each bouchon has their own petite touche d’originalité but there are certain elements you can expect any of these restaurants. Simple and rustic design featuring exposed wooden awnings and checkered tablecloths are complemented by warm and friendly service.
Your choice of drink is as equally important as your meal in a bouchon lyonnais. An apéritif could consist of kir with crème de cassis (blackcurrant syrup in white wine), a communard (blackcurrant syrup in red wine) or a pompier (wine, gooseberry syrup and soda water).
However it is the wine with the repas that defines a true bouchon experience. A glass of Beaujolais or Côte du Rhône served from a traditional glass bottle or pot lyonnais. No exceptions.
What should a Francophile order?
Most bouchons will offer several set menus at different prices. These are the best way to enjoy the bouchon as you will be eating in true French three-course fashion. Plus they’re often great value for money.
Many Lyon specialties feature offal, so it can be helpful to learn a few terms beforehand to ensure you know what you are eating.
If you turn green at the idea of offal, don’t despair! There are other traditional dishes that are sure to appeal. But if you’re a little adventurous, this is restaurant quality offal treated with real love and care; the perfect opportunity to try it.
Here are a few dishes you can typically find in a bouchon:
- Les grattons: crunchy pieces of pork fat seasoned with salt, pepper and vinegar.
- Le cervelas lyonnais: cooked sausage minced finer than an ordinary sausage. Often flavoured with truffle or pistachio. Originally this sausage was made from brains (hence its name), but is now made with pork.
- La salade lyonnaise: salad with croutons, cooked bacon and a poached or soft egg (my personal favourite).
Le plat principal
- La quenelle: similar to a German knödel, this is a form of dumpling made with a base of breadcrumbs, butter and eggs. They are often flavoured with meat or fish (minced and added to the mixture) and served in a béchamel sauce. Very popular and very tasty.
- L’andouillette: a traditional sausage made with chopped intestines (usually pork). Has similar flavour to meat based sausages but the texture is quite different. Often served in a tomato or creamy mustard sauce.
- Le tablier de sapeur: tripe soaked in white wine and fried until crispy, served with potatoes and sauce gribiche.
- La cervelle de canut: whipped fromage blanc (traditionally chèvre) with garlic, vinegar and herbs. Contrary to its name, it does not contain brains.
- Tarte aux pommes: traditional apple tart.
- Ile Flottante: soft meringues floating in custard and garnished with a touch of caramel.
- Baba au rhum: small rum soaked cakes filled or garnished with whipped cream or crème pâtissière.
So the next time you visit Lyon, be sure to set aside a meal for your favourite bouchon lyonnais. You’ll spend the evening (or afternoon) with a treasured food culture, preserved like nowhere else in the world.
Have you been to a bouchon before? What did you think? Share your own experiences in the comment box below!Image credits:
1. Bouchon lyonnais, by Dave Messina on Flickr.
2. Kir royale, by Tim Lucas on Flickr.
3. Salade Lyonnaise, by @Joefoodie on Flickr.
4. Quennelles de brochet, by Jean-Marc Albert on Flickr.
This popular article was refreshed and republished in 2021.