Origin of the Bouchons Lyonnais
Bouchons Lyonnais are one of Lyon’s landmarks.
These small bistro-restaurants serve local specialties traditionally accompanied by a glass of Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône.
The name bouchon evolved from the old French bousche.
Innkeepers used to hang a bundle of branches or bousche above their door in lieu of shop sign in order to let people know that they served wine.
The Bouchons Lyonnais appeared during the 17th century.
At that time Lyon silk-weaving industry was thriving.
Technical improvements and gifted craftsmen ensured its quality and reputation throughout the 17th and 18th centuries.
As a result, Lyon was ranked among the best European silk-weaving capitals.
Silk-weavers were known as Canuts and worked long hours in the many workshops of the old districts of Lyon.
On their way back home, many would stop at one of the inns for a basic and filling meal.
Bouchons Lyonnais’ typical dishes
Bouchons Lyonnais have little changed since those times.
They traditionally have limited menus, however, they still serve generous portions and are reasonably priced.
They always prepare their traditional specialties from products and ingredients locally sourced.
Many Bouchons Lyonnais are family-run, and most have a female chef!
They cook as they would at home, everyday simple, tasty and understated dishes.
As in any other restaurant, you can eat à la carte or from a set menu.
This second option is more economical, however, the choice of dishes is more limited but the portions always huge!
Bouchons Lyonnais’ typical set menus include a starter, main course, cheese, dessert and wine.
Among the many dishes, you find Quenelles, Gâteau de foie (chicken liver soufflé), Saucisson brioché (pork sausage cooked in pastry) or Andouillette Lyonnaise (tripes sausage) as main course.
That said, some dishes’ names might surprise you if you literally translate them!
Gâteau de volaille (chicken liver cake) or Boudin noir (blood sausage) are still ‘main stream”.
However, what about Salade de groins d’âne (literally ‘donkey snout’ salad), Cervelle de Canuts (‘Canuts’ brain – cottage cheese with herbs, garlic and onions) or Cardons à la moëlle (cards in bone marrow)?
Desserts include delicious Bugnes (fritters sprinkled with icing sugar) or Tarte Praline (Praline tart) among others.
Bouchons Lyonnais’ atmosphere
The decor of the Bouchons Lyonnais is unique and authentic and makes you feel ‘at home’.
Many Bouchons Lyonnais use the traditional white and red checkered tablecloths and bistro chairs.
Others use paper tablecloths, and some don’t even change cutlery between dishes.
They serve red wine in the traditional Lyonnais jug and verre ballon (rounded glass).
The atmosphere is equally unique!
Bouchons are indeed small, busy and hugely friendly places.
Tables are set side by side, so you basically end up engaging conversation with your neighbours.
You also often end up bringing your tables together and share the rest of the meal with your new friends!
What makes a genuine Bouchon Lyonnais?
Lyon has hundreds of restaurants, but not all are genuine Bouchons!
However, there’s a way of finding which are and which aren’t!
In 1997, the food critic Pierre Grison founded Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais.
This association awards an annual certificate that guarantees the authenticity of the Bouchon.
Therefore, the authenticated Bouchons always have a sticker representing the marionette Gnafron.
This Lyonnais puppet symbolizes the pleasures of eating.
Gnafron is indeed represented holding a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin in the other.
In January 2013, the Lyon Chamber of Commerce and Industry created a second label in partnership with Lyon’s “bouchons” .
Les Bouchons Lyonnais label rewards also the quality and authenticity of the Bouchons.
Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais has currently a list of 20 bouchons, and Les Bouchons Lyonnais 23.
These lists changes every year, as the certificates can be re-awarded, but also taken back or passed onto others.
However, here’s a list of the very best Bouchons Lyonnais, those that have consistently stuck to the rules of authenticity since they were awarded their label:
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 and Le Val d’Isère among others.
Lyon is considered the French capital of gastronomy and therefore has a legion of restaurants.
However, always check for the certificates Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais or Les Bouchons Lyonnais, and for the sticker Gnafron before pushing the door!
Map of Lyon