Lyon is famously known as the capital of gastronomy due to the density of Michelin-star spots in the city (20, to be exact). However, if your pockets aren’t deep enough for haute cuisine, you can still enjoy the more affordable local Lyonnaise dishes.
To understand the culinary topography, think of the maxim that residents in Lyon repeat seemingly daily: “Tout est bon dans le cochon!” (“No part of the pork is to be wasted, from snout to tail!”). That said, expect offal to make an appearance on every menu; many classic Lyonnaise dishes include meats such as tripe, snout and head meat – made into sausages, deep-fried or used to make rich stews.
Lyon’s food markets are a good place to start for cheap eats. The area surrounding the city is rich in agriculture, and farmers and vendors are proud to show off their fresh cheeses and hand-cured meat. Or, pop into a patisserie or a bouchon (a traditional and locally loved restaurant) to sample baked goods pulled fresh from the oven. Whatever you’re craving, here are the cheap eats in Lyon that can’t be missed.
Originally a speciality from the Duchy of Savoy, bugnes are sold at every market and pastry shop in the city. The little doughnuts consist of flour, milk, eggs and citrus, which is then folded into little ribbons and deep-fried. The best (like at A La Marquise) are light as air and covered in icing sugar.
The pralines of Lyon are slightly different than the ones made in the American South. Here, pralines are rose-hued and made with almonds, orange blossom, cooked sugar and pink dye. Eat them straight, or go into a café and find the sweet delicacies baked into scones or, more famously, spectacularly pink praline tarts with an almond flour crust and gooey, nutty filling. Boulangerie du Palais in Vieux Lyon has lines snaking out the door for its praline brioche.
Though the name translates to ‘head cheese’, there is no dairy in this dish. It’s a terrine (or meat jelly) made with the head meat from a calf, pig, sheep or cow, depending on who’s making it. Recipes for this dish date back to the early 1600s, when labourers would use the ‘fromage’ as lunch meat, spread across a baguette or with farmer’s bread. It is now served in both casual and upscale restaurants across Lyon. Fromage de tête is typically served cold, alongside mustard and cornichons.
You’ll find these simple sausages hanging in rows at every single one of the city’s markets and wine bars, making them one of Lyon’s staple snacks. Seasoned pork is ground into a sausage, covered in black pepper and dry-cured for two to three months, giving the rosettes a rustic, savoury flavour not dissimilar to salami. Residents snack on them as a small appetiser, or slice up the sausage and slip it into a fresh baguette for a more hearty snack.
Also in the sausage category, andouillette is made with coarsely cut-up pork intestines, tripe and fresh tomatoes. Fair warning: andouillete gives off an acquired smell, so diners who aren’t as familiar with offal should steer clear. Or, opt for the dish en croûte, a far more entry-level way to try the meat: the sausage is wrapped in pastry and covered in a mustard sauce. La Tête de Lard and Le Garet serve versions of the dish, though most bouchons or local cafés offer variations.
For such a small wheel of cheese (most fit in the palm of your hand), saint marcellin is filled with history. Legend has it after King Louis XI was attacked by a bear, two Lyonnais woodcutters fed the royal a wheel of saint marcellin to get him on his feet. Cheese shops across Lyon sell it for under €3 (£2.55), and every restaurant in the city offers the delicacy, either on its own as a dessert or baked into disks and served over salad. Saint marcellin is extremely soft, perfect for spreading across a piece of baguette.
This traditional dish received its nickname ‘fireman’s apron’ by the Maréchal de Castellane, a governor during the Napoleonic era, who thought the crispy tripe dish resembled a fireman’s uniform. And it does vaguely, but the dish feels far more akin to a schnitzel or a chicken fried steak. It’s made using a cut of tripe steak marinated in white wine, then dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried until crispy. The end result is a fried cutlet best served with tartare sauce. It’s a staple in the city’s bouchons.
The literal translation of this dip is a little unsettling: ‘silk worker’s brain’. Composed of farmer’s cheese, herbs, shallots, salt, pepper, olive oil and vinegar – the name merely nods to the city’s history as a silk-making community. The cheesy dish was traditionally eaten by workers, often with boiled potatoes. Nowadays, contemporary bars and restaurants will serve it alongside a glass of wine and a few slices of baguette.
To make these savoury little pastries, choux pastry dough is mixed with cheese (preferably a local comté) and baked until it is light and fluffy. No one is quite sure where the recipe originated from (gougères au fromage are eaten across the country), but Lyon’s residents have claimed the dish as their own, serving it in every patisserie or as a bar snack.