Because of its location, Lyon sits amongst some of the finest raw materials in France. As a result, it’s a hub for a variety of ingredients and top-quality regional products. Famous tasty beef comes from farms in Charolais, lake fish from Savoy and from the Dombes, the best pork from Monts du Lyonnais, and spring fruits and vegetables from Drôme and Ardèche. Plus you can get quality wines in Beaujolais and the Rhone Valley, not to mention the array of local cheeses. And the ‘royalty’ of chickens come from Bresse, and of course Bresse gave origin to the tasty Bresse blue cheese!
Talented cook tradition
As a matter of fact, women played a major role in Lyon cuisine fame.
The name Mères lyonnaises -meaning Mothers of Lyon- refers to the female cooks who gave birth to Lyon’s current gourmet reputation. The first historical mention of a Mère dates back to Mère Guy in 1759.
Their history was linked to the rise of automobile tourism, as promoted by the Michelin Guide, and the development of the city of Lyon.
In the mid-19th century, these women of modest means, initially the cooks in large middle-class households in Lyon, decided to start their own businesses, serving dishes that mixed homemade and traditional cuisine. Many more women joined their numbers during the Great Depression, when they were let go from the wealthy households that employed them.
While starting out serving a client base of working-class people, such as journeymen, in this industrial city, the reputation of their meals soon spread to a much wealthier clientele. Celebrities, businessmen and politicians came to frequent these establishments despite the mixing of the social classes, particularly in the Golden Age of the Mères, during the Inter-War period. They offered a menu that was simple (four or five traditional dishes) yet refined enough to guarantee both culinary pleasure and a welcoming ambiance.
By the way, the Pope of French cuisine was trained by ‘La Mère Brazier’, a 3-star Michelin French female chef. Paul Bocuse (1926-2018) was a French chef based in Lyon who was known for the high quality of his restaurants and his innovative approaches to cuisine.
He was one of the most prominent chefs associated with the nouvelle cuisine, which is less opulent and calorific than the traditional cuisine classique, and stresses the importance of fresh ingredients of the highest quality.
Bocuse made many contributions to French gastronomy both directly and indirectly. Severely awarded all over the world, he received the ‘chef of the Century award’. Bocuse was considered an ambassador of modern French cuisine.
A contemporary emblematic place
It was in 1859 that Lyon opened its first indoor food market in a large metallic structure located at Place Cordeliers in the centre of the city known as the “Presqu’île”. One hundred years later the city decided to build a new indoor market representative of its commitment to gastronomy.
This is the city’s main covered market, which has a history dating back to the 19th century but was recently redesigned with a more modern flare. Located next to the Part-Dieu railway station, the current belly of Lyon, now called Halles de Lyon -Paul Bocuse, hosts 48 merchants inside selling fish, cheese, pastries, bread and delicatessen and places to enjoy it.
You can expect a feast for the senses! You shall wander around and figure out your game plan of what you’d like to sample and where you’d like to eat you can have a sit down meal at many places or choose a sampler plate at certain shops.
Consider coming back to such a place!