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A guide to food in Lyon, the ‘Gastronomic Capital of the World’

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

In this article, we discuss the city of Lyon, France, known as the "Gastronomic Capital of the World," and we reveal the greatest dishes, restaurants, and events that can be found there.


Lyon, which is located in France, is regarded as the "Gastronomic Capital of the World," although Paris is considered the birthplace of haute cuisine. This attractive hillside city has the highest concentration of restaurants to population ratio of any in all of France. The city that is the third biggest in the nation is home to an astounding 17 restaurants that have been awarded Michelin stars. Among these is the two-star Auberge du Pont de Collonges restaurant, which was the flagship establishment of the late, famous chef Paul Bocuse, sometimes known as the "god of French cuisine." Bocuse passed away in 2008. This city is one that every foodie should make a point to visit at some point in their lives. However, there are over 4,000 restaurants and various culinary events that take place year; it may be difficult to know where to start when exploring these opportunities.


The good news is that this informative guide is here to provide you with all of the information you want about the cuisine of Lyon. Along the journey, we will dig into the history, geography, and people that turned this city into the world's foremost center of gastronomy. Naturally, we will also provide recommendations on what you should eat and where you should eat it, including the most important food-related events that take place each year.


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How Lyon became the world capital of food


Lyon, which is located in the southeast of France, is a geographic center for the distribution of agricultural goods. Ingredients from the north, such as chicken from Bresse and beef from Charolais, as well as copious amounts of milk and butter, are combined in its cuisine with the fresh, seasonal vegetables, wine, and olive oil produced in the valleys farther to the south. In the mountainous area to the west of Lyon, known as the Monts des Lyonnais, several pig farms provide an abundance of pork for the city of Lyon's well-known charcuteries. Trout, carp, crayfish, frogs, and snails are all found in the marshy Dombes area, which is also regarded as the oyster capital of Burgundy.


Lyon has a long history of being seen as a significant passageway between northern and southern Europe due to its location at the confluence of the mighty Rhône and Saône rivers. These rivers were an essential mode of transportation for big amounts of products before the development of railways and highways in this area. The Romans already understood the significance of this fact when it came to the wine business. Then, many decades later, Italian merchants utilized it to transport spices from the Orient to Lyon, where they were sold.


During the time of the Renaissance, Lyon had a reputation for being the food storage center of France. At that time, there was a definite divide between the cuisine of the bourgeoisie, which consisted of the prime pieces of meat and finest wines that were reserved for the nobility, and the food that was consumed by the common people. Therefore, as the economy of Lyon expanded, the populace created a culinary heritage that emphasized various organ types of meat and offal.


The Mères Lyonnaises: “Mothers of Lyon”


The Mères Lyonnaises, often known as the "Mothers of Lyon," are credited with developing and enriching this well-known cuisine. In the 18th century, these local ladies cooked for powerful bourgeois families at the beginning of their careers, but by the 18th century, they had opened their restaurants. Mère Guy, who operated an open-air café and dance hall in Mulatière, is credited as being the first person on record to wear this specific chef's hat.


Quenelle dumplings (tétons de Vénus)


In the 19th century, there were several renowned Mères Lyonnaises who followed, notably Mère Brigousse. She became famous for her breast-shaped quenelle dumplings, which she referred to as the "tétons de Vénus" (which translates to "Venus' nipples"). Later on, in the early 20th century, Mère Brazier became the first female chef in history to be awarded three Michelin stars for her two restaurants, which were both named La Mere Brazier and were located in Lyon and Le Col de la Luer, respectively.


Restaurant Paul Bocuse in Lyon


Then, just after World War II, a young Paul Bocuse served as Mère Brazier's apprentice. After that, he left an imprint that will never be erased on the Lyon culinary scene. In 1989, he was given the title of Chef of the Century by the Guide Gault Millau. He is remembered for founding a hospitality school, an international chef's competition, and ten restaurants, seven of which are located in Lyon, which he considers to be his spiritual home. Today, Bocuse is well-known all over the globe for his gourmet empire, which was instrumental in bringing Lyon to the attention of the worldwide community.


La Fresque des Lyonnais starring the famed chef Paul Bocuse


The city remembers the illustrious chef by dedicating the well-known La Fresque des Lyonnais (the Mural of Lyonnais) in the 1st arrondissement to his honor. The spectacular mural of 800 square meters was painted by the artist cooperative CitéCréation between the years 1994 and 1995. It pays respect to great people from Lyon, such as Bocuse, who left their impact on the city and the globe.


A new generation of renowned culinary artists


Lyon's culinary heritage is kept alive by renowned chefs like Mathieu Vianney (of La Mère Brazier), Joseph Viola (of Daniel et Denise), and Christian Têtedoie, among others. The latter manages an eponymous restaurant that has been awarded one Michelin star and has breathtaking views of the city. In close pursuit of them is a brand-new generation of gastronomes from the region of Lyon.


Chefs Arnaud Laverdin (of La Bijouterie and Sapnà), Gaetan Gentil (of Prairial), Tabata, and Ludovic Mey are among those on this list (of Les Apothicaires and Food Traboule). It should come as no surprise that the essence of Lyon cuisine is very much alive and well today.


Popular local dishes and produce to try in Lyon


Lyon is known as the "Gastronomic Capital of the World," therefore it should come as no surprise that the city is home to a wide variety of delicacies that are unique to the city and cannot be found anywhere else. Therefore, if you are fortunate enough to call that place home, here are a few of the city's most famous dishes that you must have when you are out and about enjoying the city's culinary scene.


Poultry, fish, and meat dishes


The poulet de Bresse, a tasty and succulent chicken with its appélation controlée (also known as a "controlled designation of origin"), is a major dish that is often seen at brasseries located in the region of Lyon, France. It is traditionally served with a smooth sauce made from mushrooms. Another choice that is both tender and delicious is the quenelle de brochet, which is a dumpling made with pike and served with a Nantua sauce that is prepared with crayfish from the neighboring Nantua lake. The Salade Lyonnaise, on the other hand, is a straightforward dish that is often requested for lunch. It is made up of fresh greens, crispy croutons, lardons, and a poached egg.


Escargots à la Bourguignonne


If, on the other hand, you have a taste for more daring cuisine, Lyon is the place to go to sample delicacies such as escargots à la Bourguignonne, which are snails served in a butter sauce flavored with parsley and garlic. The homey, leftover-style cuisine of the Mères lives on in the little bistros (or bouchons) of Lyon, where a meal known as the tablier de sapeur is a common choice to sample. This dish is made up of beef tripe that has been braised in a court-bouillon, marinated in white wine, breaded, then deep-fried. In most restaurants, it is served with steamed potatoes and a sauce called gribiche, which is produced by emulsifying hard-boiled eggs and mixing them with mustard and chives.


Charcuterie and cheeses


The charcuterie and cheeses of the Lyon area have garnered international renown. The Jésus, which is dried for a least eight weeks, and the Rosette de Lyon, which is produced from hog leg and served in chunky slices, are two of the most famous local cold cuts. The Jésus is cured for a minimum of eight weeks. The brandy-drenched Epoisse, the semi-hard and nearly sweet-tasting blue Fourme d'Ambert, the beautifully creamy Saint-Marcellin and Saint-Felicien, and the brandy-soaked Saint-Marcellin and Saint-Felicien are some of the best local cheeses to try. The latter is in point of fact among the most ancient cheeses produced in France.


There is also the possibility that you may stumble across cervelle de canut, which translates to "brains of silk-weavers." This dish is comprised of a combination of fromage blanc and fresh goat's cheese that has been seasoned with herbs, shallots, olive oil, and vinegar. It is most often served as an appetizer. Even though it is sold in stores outside of Lyon, the majority of people in France choose to prepare it at home on their own.


Sweet nibbles


Those with a penchant for sweets will, without a doubt, take pleasure in trying out the coussins de Lyon. These are marzipan nibbles in the form of green cushions, and they are filled with chocolate ganache. They are available at boutiques and bakeries dispersed all around the city.


Coussins de Lyon


The brioche aux pralines roses is a tempting buttery nibble that is covered with vivid pink sugar crumbs. It is a more satisfying alternative than the other options. The bugne, which is similar to a doughnut but made in Lyon, is yet another delectable sweet delicacy. You may find this item at the vast majority of bakeries and patisseries located all around the city.


Wine


Last but not least, the vineyards located all around Lyon produce a wide variety of wines that cater to a variety of preferences. These range from the dry white wines of Chablis in Burgundy to the dark red and full-bodied Syrah wines as well as the light and fruity Beaujolais. And for true connoisseurs, the Côtes du Rhône valleys, which are located to the south of Lyon, are where some of the oldest and most well-respected wines in all of France are produced. Among them is the Chateauneuf-du-Pape, which is not to be missed.


The best food markets and courts to visit in Lyon


It should come as no surprise that the city of Lyon, which is known as the "Gastronomic Capital of the World," has a great number of food markets and courts given its reputation for culinary excellence. Listed below are a few options for you to explore if you are fortunate enough to call the city home.


Outdoor food markets


Every town in France that is worth its salt has at least a couple of daily morning outdoor markets that sell fruit that is fresh, local, and in season. The Marché Saint-Antoine, which is located on the banks of the Saône at Place des Célestins, and the Marché de la Croix-Rousse, which is located high on the hills of the Croix-Rousse district, are two of the most well-known markets in Lyon. Both are located in the same general area.


Marché Saint-Antoine


The Marché Salengro at the metro Gare de Vaise welcomes everything from organic food to North African and Middle Eastern cuisine. If you are looking for a more cosmopolitan atmosphere that represents Lyon's broad population, however, the Marché Salengro is the place to go. You should travel there if only to try a baghirir, which is a sort of spongy crepe that is typical to Morocco.


Les Halles de Lyon


The Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse is a covered market that can be found next to the Part-Dieu railway station. It is known as the belly of Lyon. This true institution, which the locals refer to simply as "Les Halles," is far more expensive than the typical outdoor market. Despite this, it offers a more premium selection of merchants and has the added benefit of being open until 19:00.


Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse


You should make the journey to Les Halles, the mecca of French cuisine, regardless of how much money you have to spend. Here, you may indulge your sense of smell at Fromagerie Mons or La Mère Richard and your appetite at Chez Antonin or Chez Léon, where you can eat oysters. You may also gawk at the beautifully decorated pastries at Maison Victoire or Délice des Sens. In and of itself, dining at Les Garcons Bouchers, whether on an aged steak or a magret de canard burger, is an experience not to be missed. In addition, Les Halles is home to Passionnément Truffes - Maison Blanchet, a delicatessen and restaurant that focuses only on black and white truffles in all of their incarnations.


Food courts


In recent years, Lyon has seen the establishment of several food courts. The majority of them are operated by young, forward-thinking chefs who want to make fine dining less stuffy and more approachable to a wider audience. In March of 2018, La Commune was the first of its kind when it opened in a location with an industrial aesthetic in the lively 7th arrondissement. You may find foods from as far away as North Africa and Brazil, all the way to Japan, and then make your way back to France by way of Italy, all inside one location.


La Commune


The locals have shown their support for La Commune, while others have jumped on board with the trend. For example, HEAT is yet another well-liked food court, and it can be found in the Confluences region of the city. This pavilion is partly covered and has four "meal containers," each of which plays home to a different restaurant every week. These provide reasonably priced, locally sourced, seasonally appropriate food.


Cuisine Society, which is located at the very top of the La Part-Dieu shopping mall, functions as a "living factory" that pays homage to the history of street food. The busy food court has 10 vendors spread out over a huge patio, and it has a whimsical recycled theme throughout the design. The Tour Rose, which is widely considered to be one of the most impressive examples of Renaissance architecture in Lyon, is also the location of the Food Traboule, which is comprised of seven separate chambers, each of which offers a unique food to sample.


The best restaurants to visit in Lyon


For those with a passion for cuisine, it is a good thing that Lyon has a wide variety of alternatives that can be tailored to any spending limit and that will please any palate. You will not be lacking for eating options at all, as there are restaurants ranging from those with Michelin stars and fine dining to more laid-back bouchons and places that are accommodating to vegetarians.


Michelin-starred restaurants


There are a staggering 17 restaurants in Lyon that have been awarded the prestigious Michelin star, so you will have plenty of options. Mère Brazier and Takao Takano are two of the most prestigious individuals who have been awarded two Michelin stars. The first restaurant is run by Chef Mathieu Viannay, who was awarded the title of "Meilleur Ouvrier de France," and it provides an exceptional interpretation of regional French cuisine served in a traditional atmosphere. The second dish, on the other hand, is a manifestation of the inventiveness and Japanese inspirations of the restaurant's head chef, Takao Takano. This is clear from a variety of aspects, including the venue's lyrical tasting menu as well as its straightforward and airy design.


The interior of Mère Brazier


Les Terrasses de Lyon and Têtedoie, both of which are situated on the summit of Fourvière Hill overlooking the city, have equally breathtaking vistas. At Têtedoie, in addition to a fine dining establishment, there is also a bistro and a rooftop terrace. The latter of these has menus that are more reasonably priced without compromising on the quality of the cuisine. Last but not least, Léon de Lyon is a restaurant in which you can not go wrong since it delivers traditional French food with a modern touch.


Bouchons in Lyon


An alternative to the city's finest fine dining establishments is the about 20 official bouchons. In these casual dining establishments, you can find yourself sitting next to other patrons at a long table that is often draped in a tablecloth with a red and white checkerboard pattern. The walls of bouchons are often covered with photographs and newspaper clippings that speak to the establishment's lengthy history. Bouchons have a reputation for being noisy, crowded, and bright. They provide wine by the jug as well as authentic regional delicacies, the latter of which often place a strong emphasis on pig and other internal organs. On the menu at this establishment, for example, you may get tripe that has been filled with meat, pickled pig's feet, and the head of veal. They do not provide many options for vegetarians or others who are finicky eaters.


The atmosphere of a traditional bouchon


Chez Paul, Le Garet, and Café des Fédérations are three of the bouchons in Lyon that have been around the longest and are considered to be the most genuine. The renowned chef Joseph Viola is currently in charge of three bouchons, all of which go by the name Daniel et Denise and are located in the neighborhoods of Part-Dieu, Croix-Rousse, and Saint-Jean. He provides a more gourmet twist on the classic canaille cuisine, which is translated as "basic pauper's meal," while at the same time attempting to preserve this well-liked cuisine by catering to contemporary preferences. Be aware, however, that the majority of these well-known bouchons are closed on Sundays (and some of them even on Saturdays), but they are open on Mondays, which is the day of the week when the majority of other restaurants are closed. You will need to book in advance if you want to prevent losing out on them altogether because of how popular they are.


Vegetarian and vegan options


Although animal products play a significant role in Lyon's culinary heritage, the city is home to several eateries that are accommodating to vegetarians and vegans. For example, Les Mauvaises Herbes offers a variety of creative dining alternatives, starting with breakfast and going all the way to tapas in the evening. These are created using organic ingredients, the majority of which are also gluten-free.


You can not tell me they are not meatballs, can you? One of many great vegetable alternatives at Les Mauvaises Herbes


Mason jars are used to offer the four to five appetiser and main meal selections that are available at the 100% vegan restaurant known as Boko Loco. Culina Hortus is a vegetarian restaurant that caters to a more elite clientele and has an upmarket wood and stone interior design. This gives the restaurant an air of both modernity and coziness. The foods served here are works of art in and of themselves.



Top food and drink events to explore in Lyon


It should come as no surprise that Lyon is home to a plethora of celebrations centered on various types of cuisine and drink. Having said that, the majority of the city's most important events take place between September and January. If you are just going to be visiting the city, you should plan your trip accordingly. The following are some of the most exciting events that take place each year.


January


The Pastry World Cup and the Bocuse d'Or are two of the highlights of Sirha, a worldwide event that takes place every two years and is focused on the catering and gastronomy industries. The audience has the opportunity to see some of the world's greatest chefs in action at this event.


The Bocuse d'Or is a competition for culinary excellence.


In conjunction with Sirha is the Biennale Internationale du Goût (also known as BIG Lyon), which is an eight-day culinary festival that features exhibits, eating activities, and a particular emphasis on soup. In previous years, the event has included a meal in the Croix-Rousse tunnel, a dish with 800 pieces of cheese, and a fruit salad that broke the world record.


April


The Lyon Bière Festival is a well-known event that allows attendees to try local and worldwide artisanal brews. The next iteration will take place in 2022 in La Sucrière.


June


The Refugee Food Festival is an event that is the result of a partnership between several Lyon restaurants and refugee chefs. The event promotes the abilities and varied gastronomic experiences of the refugee chefs.


September


The Lyon Street Food Festival is a celebration that lasts for four days and includes music, cultural activities, and parties in addition to serving food from all over the globe.


Bière Sur la Ville is a celebration of beer and cuisine that takes place across Lyon and comprises two weeks of events and tastings that are held in cooperation with pubs and restaurants throughout the city.


October–November


At the Centre de Congrès, the largest chocolate market in the world, known as Le Salon du Chocolat, takes place over three days. Workshops for children titled "Chocoland" and a fashion display featuring outfits made entirely of chocolate will be among the event's highlights.


Edible clothes at Le Salon du Chocolat


Visit the countryside close to Lyon by running a marathon, half-marathon, or relay race; alternatively, take a stroll through vineyards and along rivers, going from wine chateau to wine chateau while sampling the delicacies of the region. This event is known as the International Marathon of Beaujolais.


These three wine exhibitions, the Salon des Vins des Vignerons Independants, the Salon Vinomédia, and the Lyon Tasting, encourage visitors to take a glass, taste, and buy a wide variety of wines from the area and beyond. It is important to keep a watch on the websites since the dates may shift somewhat from one year to the next.


Useful resources


This is Lyon; read on for more mouthwatering dishes typical of the region to sample.


Only in Lyon: Discover further excellent dining establishments in Lyon


Only Lyon – learn all there is to know about the surrounding vineyards.


Lazenne is a chapter from "The Ultimate Wine Guide to Drinking in Lyon," which can be found here.


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