Saturday, November 1, 2014

Lyon: Food Capital of the World

If France has the reputation of being the foodiest country, in terms of variety, cooking styles, and innovation, then Lyon, which all Frenchmen say is the best, is surely THE food capital of the entire world.

And we ate there for 5 days. And ate and ate.....

Fortunately we walked and walked too.

Lyon is the third largest city in France. It has a decent metro, augmented by buses, electric trolleys, and two funiculars.

I try to plan trips the easy way. Get where I'm going, plan the next phase on then go. In the autumn, which is off-season, that's easy. The entire trip is more intuitive, and changeable. But it backfired in Lyon. I tried several requests on AirBnB and got zero answers. So we stayed in a hotel found on, for one night. It suited us. It had a micro kitchen and was centrally located. We stayed for five days. But having learned a good lesson, we booked the whole rest of France, trains and lodging until the end of our stay.

Inside Notre Dame Cathedral
The first full day we took the metro to Old Lyon, and rode the funicular, which is on the same ticket as the Metro, up to the Notre Dame Basilica. It is almost as spectacular as the one in Paris, but built at a somewhat later time when technology had gotten better and there was no need for flying buttresses. Filled with religious paintings and sculptures, it also has an inlaid tile floor that was impressive. Overlooking the entire Rhone Valley is a golden statue of the Virgin Mary.

Just down the hill is a Roman ruin dating to pre-Christian times. It consisted of two amphitheaters, both restored and in full use all summer as an outdoor music and theatrical venue. The antiquities museum is housed next to it, half buried in the hillside with tubular windows to let in the light. It houses a huge collection of Roman sculpture, rescued frescoes, and inlaid tile scenes.


Lyon was once Lugdunum, a major Roman trading post since it was situated at the confluence of the Rhone and Saone rivers. The old city is atop massive roman ruins, buried in part by the annual flooding of the rivers, which are now more or less controlled, and the usual knock-down and build techniques of human beings over the entire planet.

We walked through narrow streets with tiny zooming cars, down into Old Lyon at the bottom of the hill. It was packed with tourists, every restaurant was full with a line out the door. We picked one with a menu in only French and stood in line. Finally we were seated and slogged our way through the offerings. A few fast questions in English and French were asked of the poor sweating waiter who was working hard, dealing with far too many tables. One of the items was andouillette sausage, something I'd read about but didn't remember why it was touted as so wonderful. We bought the midi-lunch, a salad, main course and dessert.

Each course was a meal in itself. Two medium sized boiled potatoes with a very salty fish atop, with sour cream and onion topping, and a side serving of greens almost filled me up. The main course was the sausage, boiled, sitting in a creamy mustard sauce, with a good serving of potatoes au gratin and a puree of carrots. More greens rounded out the real estate on the large plate.

I cut the sausage. It burst open to reveal large chunks of meat, herbs, and steam. It smelled heavenly and it was. Each bite was an explosion of flavors. We ordered a Cote du Rhone red wine to go with the meal. Each sip seemed to cleanse my palate so that every bite of that meal was like the first one.

Then dessert. I thought to order the chocolate mousse, but they were out of that. Instead I was offered a tiny chocolate cake with a dusting of powdered sugar sitting in a pool of caramel. It wasn't a lava cake, but probably the lava cake's ancestor recipe. Gooey and warm inside, almost liquid it was like eating a warm dark chocolate bar with cake texture.

Joyce had a fish en croute with a nice cream sauce in a ramekin. Her salad was Lyonaise, a bed of greens with hunks of baked bacon and a boiled egg, topped with herby dressing. Her dessert was a custard, a bit like flan but loaded with tiny flecks of vanilla.

We hurt. We actually ate too much because it was so good we couldn't stop! And the bill, about $50 for the two of us, didn't hurt at all. We'd kind of gotten used to paying that much in Paris for meals that were only half as good.

Later that evening, I went to a party given by some people I'd met in Los Alamos years before. Freddy and Mariepierre live on the 9th floor of a building overlooking the amphitheater ruins, with views to the east and south down the rivers. Out her large kitchen window, the Notre Dame Cathedral was set like a painting, all lit up with floodlights.

One of their friends is an American who married a Frenchman and has lived for 30 years in France. When I refused food at the party because I was so full from lunch, she eagerly asked where we'd eaten and what. When I told her, she expressed shock and awe. I'd eaten Andouillette and lived to tell about it? She couldn't stand the smell and just the thought of eating intestines grossed her out. I assured her, it was one of the best meals of my life.

Tile floors at Notre Dame