Eating "Typical" Foods in Lyon

While staying in Brussels eight years ago, I found myself trying NOT to ask for “Belgian waffles.”  Of course, their authentic gaufre actually do not look like what we call “Belgian waffles” here in the United States, but I still kept on biting my tongue, feeling silly every time I found myself about to ask for something made Belgian-style.

On our first stop in our most recent French trip, we were looking forward to eating in Lyon, famed for being a distinctly food-centric city in a very food-centric country.  I swore to myself that I would not look like an ignorant tourist by asking for anything “Lyonnaise,” in Lyon.  Especially not one of those salades.  Well, at our first lunch stop in Lyon, I found that I need not have worried.  Amongst other items on the salad menu, I found “Salade Lyonnaise” actually listed! 

I went ahead and ordered possibly that most famous food item from Lyon (top of the picture below, above the frites and mussels).  While very yummy—especially those crispy fried lardons (fattier and tastier than American bacon)—the salad was perhaps a bit more “French” than it could have been for our tamer tastes.  I cut them up and ate them along with the rest of the salad, but Will didn’t really want much to do with the sautéed liver chunks sprinkled liberally all over the salad…

Another Lyon specialty was seemingly everywhere but harder to find in actuality.  In the Lyon Tourist Information office, we saw a tee-shirt that proclaimed “I tried a hot dog, but I preferred the quenelle.”  Guide books were agog about these Lyonnaise creations.  We walked all over Lyon looking for a restaurant listed in our Lonely Planet book as famous for multiple varieties of quenelles, but the restaurant had been replaced by a café.  Finally, when we stopped into an authentic Lyonnaise bouchon (you have to look for a plaque with a red-nosed Guignol on it), I was greeted with a menu of the day that featured a quenelle.

When it came, I was pleasantly surprised.  A quenelle turned out to be a largish dumpling that was covered in (usually) a creamy sauce and baked to the point when the sauce got bubbly (and dangerously hot!) and the quenelle became browned and the sides of the casserole dish nicely crusted.  The quenelle pictured at the top of this post was really quite a revelation.  I had merely been seeking a quenelle with three cheeses sauce (a typical variety), but this one was amazing!  It was a quenelle with shrimp in a lobster butter sauce.  You can see a piece of langoustine on top of the browned quenelle.  And the sauce!  Cheesy, buttery, lobster-y, and burn-the-roof-of-your-mouth hot! 

Especially given that we had walked for many miles that day in cool early May weather, I appreciated the hearty warmth and the creamy explosion of flavor that the quenelle brought, along with the authentic flavor of Lyon.


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