Learn on how to get the real bouchon experience in Lyon with my small yet useful checklist
…let me tell you what the bouchons are & why Lyonnais are so proud of them and what you need to do to get the get the real bouchon experience..and why so much hassle about this all?
Well, when coming to Lyon, it is obligatory to have a bouchon experience! As you should know by now, Lyon has over 2000 very good quality restaurants, brasseries and something called bouchons. These are typical bistro restaurant which you can find only in Lyon. They are very popular, they serve very good traditional meals, they have to be experienced. Unfortunately, nowadays the name has been a little bit abused by people in order to gain more customers. So, when you are in Lyon, many restaurants owners will call their restaurant a bouchon but actually the bistro place is not a bouchon anymore. How cheeky is that!? So I would love to make sure you will be clever enough to avoid their tricks! I would love to show you the way to discover the real bouchon and get the proper experience. So I prepared this small Checklist of The Real Bouchon Experience. I hope you will find it useful. But, lets start from the beginning, let me tell you properly about the Buchons. What they are and how they have been established in Lyon.
Well, its all started Lyon in the 17th & 18th centuries, at the times when silk workers were very popular in Lyon. The tradition of bouchons came from small inns visited by them on their way back home from the hard work. The word “bouchon” (cork in English) comes from the custom cultivated at that time, when the owners of those inns used to hang corks made of straw outside their bistros to let the stagecoaches know that they were serving wine. The drivers would then stop for a drink and to make themselves useful they would clean their horses with a bunch of straw also called “bouchon”. So apparently the name bouchon stands for twisted straw. Anyway, strange name isn’t it? But here you are The Bouchons!
And moving on, you might be disappointed to find out that real bouchons offer limited menus. But you will be happy to find out that the dishes they serve, come in very big portions of heart (belly) filling meals at a good price. That is correct – they don’t have much choice but they will offer traditional specialities made with the traditional recipes with top quality of regional products. You might wait long for your meal to be prepared; it can be burned but it can be very tasty…simply it is like at home ..with all those kitchen successes and small disasters . So here comes bouchons, many of which are family business, most of them have female chefs and as Mum would cook for you, you will find it really good one day and difficult to eat the other day (what a comparison I found on here, I surprise myself sometimes as well…). The bouchons are not perfect; well they are very good at being authentic, real and natural. But would you like to know what ‘interesting and unique you can eat at the real bouchon? Well, you will find there the most traditional meals homemade.
These are such as: Quenelle (natural or flavoured dumpling baked in oven); Gateau de foie (chicken liver soufflé), Saucisson brioche (a pork sausage cooked in pastry), Andouillette lyonnaise (tripes prepared the lyon’s way), Cervelle de Canuts (cottage cheese with herbs, garlic and onions), Bugne (typical dessert lyons fritter with icing sugar),Tarte Praline (Praline tart) etc. The typical meal at the bouchon would include the starter, main plate, cheese and dessert. The names which are on the menu can really scare you if you happen to have a dictionary and start to translate…if the menu is in French you will read: Typical items in the bouchon repertoire include: Groins d’âne salad (literally, “donkey snout” salad), Gateau de volaille (chicken liver cake), Boudin noir (blood sausage, usually served with warm apples), Cardoon à la moelle (in bone marrow) etc. Sounds yummy, doesn’t it 😉 And to get a idea of a typical Lyonnais bouchon menu have a look at the example here. There are dishes served separately as well as the set menus, lets say cheaper & limited options still very good. To get the best & full service experience in a top Lyonnais bouchon, starting with the entrée, followed by the plat principal, and finishing with fromage & dessert plus the wine, you would pay around £25-50 (depending on the wine and the type of menu you are taking). But the portions are usually very big, be physically and mentally prepared for this.
Now I need to mention the bouchons’ décor…it is different, so authentic and unique and makes you feel like at home really. Many bouchons will have those famous white-red chequered tablecloths which you can spot easily especially in Vieux Lyon. Many bouchons will have paper tablecloths, and some don’t change the cutlery between courses!
They have balloon wine glasses, bistro chairs, Lyonnais wine jugs, a wooden counter and meals served from copper platters just to name a few characteristics for you.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly of all, the atmosphere at the real bouchon is friendly and will warm the coldest hear, as they say. It allows or forces you to have discussions between tables as they are close to each other or sometimes you can even be put to the table with other people, just don’t stress out and use the opportunity to practice your French! It’s a place where you automatically feel relaxed, calmer and like at home so…no hurry to leave.
So as I mentioned, there are many restaurants calling themselves a bouchon but they are not. To preserve and protect the real tradition, in 1997, Pierre Grison and his organization, L’Association de défense des bouchons lyonnais (The Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons), started releasing annual certifications to restaurants as “authentic” bouchons. The authentic restaurant is awarded with the title Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and received a sticker which represents the marionette Gnafron.
Gnafron is a Lyonnais puppet which symbolizes the pleasures of eating. On the sticker he is happily holding a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin in the other. There is another label which has been created by the Lyon Chamber of Commerce and Industry in partnership with Lyon’s “bouchons” In January 2013 has been launched and since then it checks and verifies the this quality the quality and authenticity of Lyon’s Les Bouchons Lyonnais, Above all, it guarantees that all dishes are home-made.
Grison currently lists 20 bouchons, but the rival organisation Les Bouchons Lyonnais launched in 2012 includes just 23. Of course the lists changes all the times, the certifications can be given, taken back, passed on others. But the very top bouchons which are real and authentic and are sure to be on the list are: Daniel et Denise, Daniel et Denise Saint-Jean, Café Comptoir Abel,Café Comptoir Chez Sylvie, Café du Jura, Le Vivarais, Les Lyonnais Saint-Jean, Bouchon Comptoir Brunet, Le Sathonay, Chabert et Fils, Les Culottes Longues, Aux Trois Cochons, La Tête de Lard, Le Poêlon d’or, Le Laurencin, Les Fines Gueules, L’Acteur, Le Val d’Isère etc.
So , I have been to Adel and it is really the best bouchon (the oldest and most authentic!) and serves the best quality quenelles! Another very famous and good bouchon is Chez Paul. But I am sure any certificate bouchon is a bit different and wonderful in its own way as they cannot be duplicated.
And finally the list…as I mentioned, being a novice in Lyon, tourist or not, you can be easily tricked by the restaurant owners who want to get more clients. So, let me help you to avoid their tricks with this Simple & Easy & Useful Checklist of The Real Bouchon Experience. Here is comes:
- Remember there are no more than 23 certificated bouchons in Lyon. Check if the bouchon is on the list of accredited bouchones (List by Association de Défense des Bouchons Lyonnais or the list of Les Bouchons Lyonnais & useful and updated list on OnlyLyon)
- When entering the bistro, check if the bouchon has a unique deco: look for the red-and-white checked tablecloths, charcuterie hanging near the counter, balloon wine glasses, bistro chairs, Lyonnais wine jugs, a wooden counter, a pig (well not a real one)…
- Make sure the wine list has Beaujolais or Côtes du Rhône wine!
- Briefly look at the menu and check for the Lyonnais heavy traditional meals like Gateau de foie, Saucisson, Andouillette lyonnaise, Cervelle de Canuts etc
- Check if the owner is around
- The sign. Don’t bother to enter if you wont see the sticker of of marionette Gnafron
- If you find yourself in a bouchon with pizza on the menu, run away!
So did get the idea of proper Lyonnais bouchon? Are you confident you will find the authentic bouchon in Lyon? I hope so, but if you need more help or have any questions just give me a shout! Don’t miss out on a proper Lyonnais experience and book a table at the bouchon, try the specialities and feel full and content! Bon appetite!