Cervelle de Canut

cervelle de canut

Lyon has such a strong food tradition that it’s often referred to as the stomach of France. There’s an irony in this in that very often stomach is on the menu…more on that below.

Although Lyon has more Michelin starred restaurants than most other places in Europe, it’s not just about fine dining. In fact, in the bouchons, it’s very much the opposite; and yet, that’s what most people come to try – the food of the Bouchons.

The term “bouchon” is used to refer to a plug or a stopper – like a cork. It’s also used in reference to traffic jams. In the case of Lyon, the Bouchon is a bistro style restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine.

These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.

The food of the Bouchon is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal. A whole tradition has been built around pork products and charcuterie. As they say tout est bon dans le cochon – all is good in the pig and nothing is wasted.

Although some of the names of the dishes sound quite fabulous, there’s nothing flash about the ingredients or the way they’re put together. Even though Lyon’s silk weavers, or canuts, couldn’t afford expensive ingredients, they still wanted to show the wealthy middle class that they too had refined tastes so gave their dishes names that gave the impression of luxury and richness – when the reality was very different.

Take the rather beautifully named Le Caviar de la Croix Rousse for example which is, in fact, lentil salad seasoned with cream and cervelas (dried sausage) or smoky lardons (bacon). As an aside, this is quite tasty.

Then there’s the Sabodet – a (wait for it) sausage comprised of ground pork head – the whole head – seasoned with red wine, garlic and nutmeg. Yeah…nah.

Or Le Tablier de Sapeur – or sapper’s apron prepared from…you know what? I’m not going there. Suffice to say I had an entire list – which I’m happy to share with you another time – of things we absolutely weren’t going to mistakenly order…although that didn’t stop hubby from willingly ordering andouillette.

Conversely, there are other dishes with names that would normally turn you off that are actually pretty nice – like Groins d’âne salad which translates to donkey snout salad but has no donkey parts anywhere near it. It is instead dandelion leaves with egg and lardons.

Sure, some of these dishes sound revolting – and not for the faint of heart – but they’re only part of the story. There’s plenty to love about Lyonnaise food. The charcuterie and cheese for a start. Then there’s Coq Au Vin – which comes from this region, well, just up the road in Burgundy; Salade Lyonnaise – a caesar salad on steroids; the famous Bresse Chicken – which is as good as it was promised to be; and Poulet Sauté au Vinaigre – which I made last night…and very yummy it was indeed. If you want the recipe, you’ll find it here.

One of the foodie highlights of our time in Lyon was Cervelle de Canut. This dish is named after the silk workers and translates loosely to silk workers brains. No brains were (thankfully) used in it. The meaning is instead a derogatory one – meaning that it’s soft. It was, perhaps, an indication of the dubious esteem that the silk workers were held in by the more affluent in society.

In any case, the silk workers – or canuts – would start work at stupid o’clock and by mid-morning would be needing a snack. This snack was known as machons (there’s a little upside-down v over the a) and consisted of something like this herby cream cheese, probably some charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in a Bouchon in the early morning.  My kind of breakfast. And yes, they’d be back for lunch.

We had this herb-flecked cheese dip served over boiled potatoes in Lyon, like in the photo below, but it’s also good on baked potatoes or slices of toasted baguette.

If you want to be really authentic have it with a glass of red wine or, better still, a communard – a Lyonnaise classic – red wine with blackcurrant liqueur (creme de cassis).

What you need

  • 250g cottage cheese or quark. Choose the full-fat version.
  • 50ml creme fraiche. You can also use non-sweetened greek style yoghurt if you like.
  • 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 1tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 medium shallot, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp chives, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp continental parsley, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

To serve: boiled peeled baby potatoes or potatoes baked in their skin, or sliced and toasted baguette

What you do with it

  • Place the cottage cheese and creme fraiche in a bowl and mix together.
  • Whisk in the olive oil, vinegar, garlic, salt and pepper
  • Stir through the shallot, chives and parsley.
  • Cover with cling film and pop it in the fridge for an hour

Lyon

Pic was taken at the Roman ruins at Fourviere

Last week I took you along on a food tour of Lyon and showed you where we stayed. This week we’ll be checking out more of the sights.

Cathedrale St-Jean

Each of the neighbourhoods in Vieux or Old Lyon are named after the churches in those neighbourhoods. We have St-Georges to the south, St-Jean in the middle and St-Paul to the north. The area we stayed in was St-Jean, one of the traditionally more wealthy of the neighbourhoods.

Cathedrale St-Jean is, as many churches we looked at seemed to be, in a state of almost constant scaffold and renovation. It was built between the 11th and 16th century, with the facade completed in 1480. I was drawn – as you’d probably expect me to be – to the astronomical and astrological clock.

Fourviere

I told you last week about the traboules and how these alleys were used by the silk traders as a convenient shortcut, keeping their precious fabrics dry as they went from the workshops to the river. The traboules have, however, been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.

Back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Lugdunum as they called it – which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – was important partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone. It was, for many years, the capital of the Gaulish Roman Territories.

Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.

Which brings me back to Fourviere. The Romans built Lugdunum on the slopes of Fourviere more than 2000 years ago. Yes, we’re talking BC – but when we’re talking millennia, do the exact details really matter? It’s still very well preserved and well worth visiting – although it’s far better to catch the funicular up here than it is to walk.

The Roman Theatre – Théâtre Romain – was capable of holding an audience of up to 10,000 people. The day we visited we watched a school group rehearse.

There’s a museum you can go look at, but we were entranced by what we found here in the ruins and didn’t bother.

Basilique Notre Dame de Fourviere

As far as French churches go, this one isn’t that old – it is, however magnificent and stands high on the hill with the whole of Lyon below it.

The day that we visited the funicular station at the Basilica was closed so we walked up from the Roman ruins. Even if we hadn’t, stepping into this grand space would have taken our breath away.

There’s part of me that is offended – although I don’t know if offended is the right word – by this outrageous display of wealth and power, and I feel quite hypocritical to be marvelling at it, but it’s impossible to turn away from. I read somewhere (can’t remember where) that all of this opulence could possibly have been to make up for the fact that the Basilica had no real political clout with the powers that be in Rome. Whatever the reason, the mosaics are absolute works of art.

The views from the terrace down to old Lyon and across the river are also pretty spectacular.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


Lyon – The Foodie Walking Tour

 

Our apartment is on the street so we’re woken by the noise and bustle of a city waking up. It feels almost Italian rather than French – although the accents tell us otherwise.

In fact, the whole area feels Italian – the restaurants, the architecture, the colours, the sounds. I suppose that it makes sense seeing as though the heritage of this city is a Roman one, and the architecture and food culture comes largely from the Italian workers in the silk trade.

Food Walking Tour

Lyon is regarded as the gastronomic capital of France – and for good reason. There are over 4000 restaurants in this city – and it’s the 4th most Michelin rated city in Europe. It’s the bouchons, though, that we were most interested in. These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. It’s also the term for a cork or a traffic jam. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses.

To learn more about it, we took a foodie walking tour through Vieux, or old, Lyon.

Our first stop was for fromage, ie cheese. The extremely passionate owner had organised his cheese by region, source (ie cow, goat, sheep) and whether raw or pasteurised.

We tried a number of cheeses and heard about where each came from and who made it.

Next up was charcuterie. By now we’re feeling glad that we didn’t have breakfast.

We tried chaud saucisson en brochette, an assortment of salamis whose names I didn’t write down, andouilette (tripe sausage) mixed with creme fraiche and spread onto bread and not at all like the biology lesson it was when hubby tried it the day before in Saint-Gengoux-Le-National. Having said that, I still didn’t like it. Apparently, the Lyonnaise use veal “bits” rather than pork “bits” so it’s not as stinky…whatevs. The red wine took the taste away nicely.

As we walked off some of what we’d eaten we ventured in and out of traboules.

I told you about these before we left for France. They are, in essence, a series of shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways that the silk workers used to get their precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa.

 

Silk weaving was painstaking work with some fabrics taking months to weave at between 5-20 cm a day – depending on the design. It’s no wonder they wanted to make sure it didn’t get wet once they had finished it!

The workers and their families lived where they worked – often in just a couple of cramped rooms.

Interestingly, the pitchers that they use for wine in the bouchons take just 450mls  when they look like they’d hold more. They have a misleading false bottom. As the silk workers were often paid in wine, these false-bottomed pitchers actually represented a pay cut. These pitchers were the cause of some of the strikes and unrest in the late 19th century.

In a Bouchon we sampled cervelles de canuts, or silk workers brains – although it’s not really brains, just a very yummy fromage blanc based cheese dip that I’ll tell you more about another time. We also had jambon perseille – ham in aspic with parsley – and oeufs meurette – eggs in a red wine sauce. We accompanied this with another Lyonnaise classic, a communard – red wine with cassis, framboise and fraise liqueur.

Next up was an ice cream tasting. Pauline, our guide, asked us to try and guess the flavours. The first was easy – passionfruit – although the Canadian couple also on the tour had never tried passionfruit before. The things we take for granted. The second flavour we sampled was a date with orange blossom water.

Our final tasting (phew) was a praline tart that I’m sure was the inspiration for the decor in the apartment we were staying in. It was pinker than anything edible has the right to be – and just as sweet as you’d imagine.

Speaking of pink, if there was a colour that defines Lyon, it’s pink. It sounds lovely, but the colour originally came from the oxblood that they used to paint the bricks with. It doesn’t sound quite as romantic now, does it? In many cases the colour has faded away, but in our building and others the pale pink remains.

If you want more info about this Food Tour, here’s the link. We did the 4 hour Vieux Lyon at 70E per head.

Where we ate

Le Nord, by Paul Bocuse

I was so looking forward to this and although the food was good, the service was disappointing. The waiter delivering our food didn’t know who had ordered what and it was the first restaurant we’d been in at night where we weren’t offered an amuse bouche. It was all less than we’d been expecting from a Bocuse restaurant. Perhaps it was a tourist thing, although it was something we hadn’t encountered elsewhere.

I had chaud saucisson – essentially sausage within a brioche; a Lyonnaise classic- and Bresse Chicken in a tarragon sauce. Bresse Chicken had been on my list to try and it didn’t disappoint. It was like no other chicken I’d had before – a dark, firm meat, almost gamey in flavour.

The streets at night are full of people out eating. It’s vibrant, noisy and a really great vibe.

The second night we were so footsore that we ate in a Bouchon downstairs. We each had a bowl of onion soup and shared a serve of cervelles de canuts with steamed potatoes and salad, and a charcuterie plate, with plenty of red wine. It was simple food cooked well – and we loved it.

Where we stayed

le XVI de la Rose, 16 Rue du Boeuf

Our apartment was in the Rose Tower and had it all – a steep spiral staircase to reach it, super stylish fittings, the fluffiest of fluffy rugs, and recessed lighting in the toilet – because that’s what you really need in a toilet. It was, on the whole, drop dead gorgeous.

Sharing the ground floor was a UNESCO listed courtyard, art gallery and one of the oldest silk works in Lyon. In the sought after Saint-Jean part of the old town, we had our choice of museums and bouchons just outside the front door.

The reference to rose in the apartment’s title wasn’t just the name of the building – it was also in the interior. This apartment was pink – from the mural on the wall to the figures in the foosball game to the toilet paper. Yes, the toilet paper matched the rest of the apartment. There was even a tree in the bathroom. I didn’t attempt to hang a towel on it.

There was nothing in this apartment that wasn’t styled to within an inch of its life – except perhaps for us. Although my toenails did match the rug – as did my kir royale.

Like most apartments in this part of town, there was no parking in or around the premises so we had to park in the parking station down the road and wheel our bags over the cobbles and then carry them up the stairs. It’s seriously no wonder that everyone in this town is in amazing shape.

Looking up the staircase. Pic from the apartment’s booking.com page

Next time – Lyon Part 2: The Basilica and Roman Ruins

*My friend Jan has also penned some reasons to visit Lyon. You can find her post here.

It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, DebbishSeize the Day ProjectWrite of the Middle50 Shades of Age,  and, of course, me.


L is for…

I’ve taken on the challenge of an A-Z during April – one post each day on a chosen theme. My theme? Books and writing, of course…

L is for Lyon

We’ll be in Lyon later this month and there’s so much about the place that’s already firing my imagination. Sit back while I weave the beginnings of a tale…

If you were to look at a satellite image of Lyon – which you’re probably not inclined to do but please, go with me on this – you’d see a few streets running parallel to the river but not many side streets connecting them that actually run down to the river.

This isn’t a problem if you’re a tourist – so you have to walk an extra 200m, what of it? But it is a problem if you’re a 15th-century silk trader and you’re carrying heavy bolts of fabulously precious silk.

Ok, I’m going to stop right there for a second as the image and the idea develops – 15th century and silk trade.

So, you’re a 15th-century silk trader carrying heavy fabric and you need to get to the river quickly…what do you do? You start to take shortcuts through houses and courtyards and private passageways to get your precious cargo between the river and the city and vice versa. That’s what you do.

We now know this network of passageways as traboules – a word that comes from the Latin trans ambulare which means “to cross” – and Lyon has hundreds of these.

Another pause while we picture this – 15th century, silk traders, a network of passageways to the river and a waiting cargo ship. The colour of the silk striking against the murkiness of the candlelit passageways. Yep, the image and the idea is beginning to get clearer. I’m thinking smuggling and other dark deeds…

Right, back to the history. Although these alleys were associated with the silk traders in that the traboules kept the fabric dry as well as provided a convenient shortcut, they’ve been in Lyon at least since the 4th century.

You see, back in the day, Lyon was a bit of a poster child for the Roman Empire. Signs of this are still around – with the structures apparently still quite impressive. I’ll let you know after we visit them.  It makes you wonder what the Romans knew about building back then?

But I digress. Lyon was important  – or Lugdunum as they called it, which doesn’t have quite the same ring as Lyon – partly because it was a handy stop-over point, but mostly because it has two rivers. The Rhone curves through the centre of Lyon as does the Saone.

Anyways, once the Romans reluctantly left town, the aqueducts bringing water to the city started to fail – a little like an iPhone at the end of its warranty. People started building closer to the river and the first traboules were built around this time to allow people to get from their homes to the water quicker.  Yeah, not much of a story there – I think I’ll stay with the 15th-century silk traders.

These silk workers, known as canuts had to eat… so let’s move forward a couple of hundred years to the 17th and 18th century to talk about the other thing I’m looking forward to in Lyon – les bouchons.

The Bouchon is a restaurant serving Lyonnaise cuisine – which is heavily meat-based and does, shall we say, use the whole of the animal.

These were originally places where silk merchants stopped to have a meal, clean their horses and maybe stay the night. The term Bouchon was used then to describe the twisted straw brushes used to clean the horses. Don’t say you don’t learn anything from this blog.

Most of these Bouchons were run by women – Mere Lyonnaises (the Mothers of Lyon) who left their positions as cooks in middle-class households to start their own businesses. I’m beginning to see another strand of a potential story and I haven’t even visited yet!

Then there’s the tradition of machon (the a has a little upside down triangle over it). This is pretty much charcuterie and all bits porky served with pots of Beaujolais in the early morning.  The silk weavers – or canuts – of La Croix-Rousse would all get together to share these meals at dawn after they finished work. My kind of breakfast.

Tired and down-trodden silk workers, hungry bellies, pork and litres of red wine before the sun is properly up – I’m seeing the perfect environment for the hatching of dastardly plans.

Maybe there’s a way of making this trip tax deductible after all…


It’s Lovin’ Life Linky time…

It’s Thursday, so it’s time to look for our happy and share it about a bit. The Lovin’ Life Linky is brought to you by Team Lovin’ Life: Deep Fried Fruit, Debbish, Seize the Day Project, Write of the Middle, 50 Shades of Age, and, of course, me.

Feel free to link up a post that reflects what you’re lovin’ about life. All bloggers are welcome! Fashion, food, beauty, business, personal, parenting … whatever …

Make sure you click on some of the Lovin’ Life links below and see what else is in the blogosphere. So much to love …