Origin of the Bouchons Lyonnais
Bouchons Lyonnais are small bistro-restaurants in Lyon, the French capital of gastronomy.
They serve traditional local specialties with a glass of Beaujolais or Côtes-du-Rhône.
Bouchons Lyonnais appeared during the 17th century, when Lyon silk-weaving industry was at its peak.
Silk-weavers worked long hours and on their way back home, many would stop at one of the inns for a cheap and filling meal.
The name bouchon evolved from the Old French, when innkeepers placed a bundle of branches or bousche above their door to let them know that they served wine.
A homely cuisine
These establishments have little changed since.
Their menus are still limited, however, they still serve generous portions and are reasonably priced.
Many Bouchons Lyonnais are family-run, and most have a female chef!
They still produce everyday day simple, tasty and understated dishes from products and ingredients locally sourced.
They propose à la carte and set menus.
The second option is more economical; the choice of dishes is more limited but the portions are always huge!
Bouchons Lyonnais’ typical set menus include a starter, main course, cheese, dessert and wine.
Traditional dishes include Quenelles; Gâteau de foie (chicken liver soufflé); Saucisson brioché (pork sausage cooked in pastry); Andouillette Lyonnaise (tripes sausage); Gâteau de volaille (chicken liver cake); Boudin noir (blood sausage), but also Salade de groins d’âne (literally ‘donkey snout’ salad); Cervelle de Canuts (‘Canuts’ brain – cottage cheese with herbs, garlic and onions); Tablier de Sapeur (Sapper’s apron – beef tripes); porc head cheese and Cardons à la moëlle (cards in bone marrow).
Traditional desserts include Bugnes (fritters sprinkled with icing sugar) and Tarte Praline among others.
A homely atmosphere
Food is important, so is the Bouchons Lyonnais’ decorum, which always conveys a homely feeling!
Some have 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).
Bouchons are small and hugely social places; indeed, tables are set side by side, and before they know it, customers have engaged in a conversation with their neighbours.
They often end up bringing their tables together and share the rest of the meal with their new friends!
How to recognise genuine Bouchons Lyonnais?
However, beware, as Lyon has hundreds of restaurants, but not all are genuine Bouchons!
That said, there’s an easy way to find which are and which aren’t.
In 1997, the food critic Pierre Grison founded Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais.
This association awards an annual certificate of authenticity and a sticker representing Gnafron.
This local puppet holds a glass of wine in one hand and a napkin in the other, and symbolizes the pleasures of eating.
In January 2013, the Lyon Chamber of Commerce and Industry created a second label – Les Bouchons Lyonnais – in partnership with the city’s bouchons.
Les Authentiques Bouchons Lyonnais and Les Bouchons Lyonnais each have about 20 members.
However, these figures vary each year, as the certificates can be re-awarded, but also taken back or passed onto others.
So always look for Gnafron before you push open the door of a restaurant in Lyon!