When I was around 12 years old, my father’s French postdoc Lionel (the first French person I remember ever having met), told me “The best food in the world is in France, the best food in France is in Lyon and the best restaurant in Lyon is XYZ” (the latter I don’t recall). And indeed, this city is the epicenter of French gastronomy (traditional, haute and nouvelle cuisines), home to some of the greatest chefs in history, the likes of (Maire) Eugénie Brazier and the legendary Paul Bocuse.
And nowhere is this immense culinary legacy more pronounced than in Les Halles de Lyon Paul Bocuse, a ginormous, modern covered market in the La Part-Dieu neighborhood close to the main train station. This foodie paradise houses stands by over 50 of Lyon’s most reputed food artisans, from butchers to bakers to fishmongers to chocolatiers, cheesemongers, caviar specialists and charcutiers. The building is a modern thing built of glass and metal, exquisitely clean inside and out, and easy to navigate.
My friend and I stopped at several stalls to admire their products – the mountains of cheese at Mère Richard, the stunning selection of quenelles at Maison Giraudet, the andouillettes of Charcuterie Bobosse. But perhaps the most draw-jopping display were those of Charcuterie Sibilia and Maison Gast. And endless row of terrines, pâtés and rillettes of different colors, textures and seasonings, as well as the largest collections of pâté en croute I have ever seen.
At the charcut stand of most French food markets you’ll usually come across a pâté en croute or two, usually one with foie gras and the other more “à la campagne” style with crumbly bits of pork. But here PeC is like an artform, with each freshly-sliced cross-section displaying its own unique design – crumbly pork, white blotches of fat, olives, pistachios, black truffle, offal meat and aspic arranged like a painting by Richter or Pollock. And framing these collection-worthy works is a perfectly caramelized, buttery, flaky dough with beautiful mouldings and grooves hinting at their fillings. These stands made me change the way I think about this French specialty, which had never really excited me before. Color me interested from that day forward.
My friend insisted on a dozen oysters each, which I could have done without. Afterall, oysters are not a local specialty of landlocked Lyon and are sourced from around an hour away from where I live. Nevertheless, we stopped at Chez Antonin for some fines de claire and took a seat next to a lovely couple of ladies from Bresse, who ended up giving us more than half of their bottle of Mâcon Villages. What an upgrade from the acidic Entre-deux-Mers you get with your oysters in Bordeaux…
We also stopped by a place called Baba la Grenouille, considered the mecca for cuisse de grenouilles sauvages (or wild frog legs) in Lyon. This place specializes in the stuff, coating the limber leggies in a mixture of flour and breadcrumbs and sauteéing them in a healthy dose of butter until golden brown. At the last minute, they are sprinkled with some fragrant parsley and served with a slice of lemon and a side of their incredibly creamy homemade gratin dauphinois (sold separately and a big mistake not to order). The frog meat was perfectly cooked, the tender, tiny lumps of muscle tumbling off miniature femurs and tibiofibula. Their very mild flavor is indeed quite like chicken or fish. The crunchy coating gave a nice bit of texture and was completely cooked through, the buttery, nutty flavor brightened up nicely with a squeeze of fresh lemon.
Enjoy with a glass of Burgundy blanc (our red was a bit too aggressive with this dish).
Also, this guy: