Lyon I will always remember for the bouchon. X read about a special kind of down-home restaurant that lives only in this city, the gastronomic capital of France, and so we found ourselves one night in a small, red room with a bar and eight little tables. There was no one else there, although it was nearly eight o’clock, surely a reasonable hour for dinner, no? we thought, as the young but solemn waitress seated us in a small table by the end of the bar.
We were surrounded by pigs. Hung from the ceiling and sticking out of the walls were pigs, large and small, in the pictures and on the wallpaper. As I was about to learn, bouchons are all about meat, and not just pork chops – tripe, gizzards, hoofs and cheeks.
If I had done my homework, I would have ordered a communard, a mixture of red wine with blackcurrant liqueur which the guide book spun a romantic tale about, but I hadn’t seen that yet, so we had local red wine, and together with that the girl brought us a basket of breaded, deep-fried pig fat – tablier de sapeur, pork rinds. Oh, stupendous wonder! Wine and salted fat!
We hadn’t ordered a thing besides the wine, but very quickly she came out with another dish, a poached egg floating in a deep red soup which may have been wine and blood for all I know. It was rich and salty; I drank it down and ate more breaded tripe. This is going to be good.
Then, it got better. A dozen boisterous men walked into the place, and they all had the same look on their face, the look of a man who’s about to sit down with 11 of his buddies, eat a good meal, and get hammered. It was on!
The 2 waitresses jumped to life in an effort to mash tables together for these guys, and then they just started bringing out the dishes and bottles, passing everything down the line because there was no room to even walk around their party. The men bellowed a singsong of conversation and laughter at each other and flirted with the waitresses, drinking and clinking and shouting and pointing, not a word of it intelligible to us, but all of it making perfect sense and perfect comedy. We were at a great party!
The chef came out and spoke with us. It turned out that his son lives and works in New York, and he has visited. He gave us a small dish with two meatballs. I wish I had one of those meatballs right now, it was so good. The chef, who spoke fairly good English, did not know the word for what was in the meatball. He struggled. Then, Aha! he reached behind the bar, and pulled out a stuffed pig’s foot, complete with black hair. I couldn’t believe it. Where was the meat on a pig’s foot that could make this much meatball? I never liked pig’s feet in China, but this meatball was something else.
The chef then listed for us, from memory, tonight’s menu. There were about six delicious-sounding choices, and I felt limited to choose just one, but I chose the blood sausage with baked apples, because I’d never had blood sausage before, and X ordered the cheek. Mine was really good, although I could have had less of it (I did eat it all, though!); hers was better.
After we polished those off, they asked if we’d like some cheese. Sure, why not? They bring us a cutting board with five big hunks of different cheeses and some bread, plus a big bowl of fresh cottage cheese! We looked at each other like, Are we supposed to eat all this cheese? Well, we did our best…
There was still room for dessert, of course. X had a pear, drowned in red wine and sugar, and I had a coffee ice cream. And naturally there was espresso to finish. Total perfection.
Another day in Lyon, we went for a long walk to find the cathedral at the top of the hill that overlooked the city. You can see it from anywhere. It’s right near the imitation Eiffel Tower. Walking across the city, to the base of the hill, was no problem. It took about 30 minutes from our hotel. But from there, we had to go nearly straight up. We walked in the sun up a long hill, and some cars and scooters were driving down, at high speeds. It was a tough slog. Along the way, a man was sweeping the street. He tried to say something to us, but we didn’t understand. He repeated himself, but a car drove by in between us, and we couldn’t hear. He crossed the road and spoke to us, but we said we didn’t speak French. He said, “Oh, I’m sorry, I was just asking if you’d like a glass of water.” How nice!
Turned out he was not actually a street-sweeper, but was cleaning up outside the hostel of which he is proprietor. He invited us in and poured two glasses of ice-cold water, much appreciated at the moment, as we had been sweating and climbing up the steep hill of the road. He led us out to the back porch, which overlooked the entire city. We sat and cooled ourselves, enjoying the view, and thought about the kindness that we were experiencing. Then we thanked him again and continued on our way.
At the top of the hill is the Basilica of Notre-Dame de Fourvière.