Walking from the tramway to reach “Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocuse” as the market hall in Lyon is called, was a bit of a challenge. Lots of construction was happening, tall office buildings and parking lots did not make it easy to spot the location. Considering that the city is known as a French gourmet capital, the surroundings do not reflect such a reputation, I expected some more romanticism. Furthermore the main entrance, a large glass front, is facing a busy road. This is how you are being welcomed at a small paradise which carries the name of one of the most renown chefs of our times: Paul Bocuse.
Entering the building everything is a bit dark this early morning, no hectic yet. No glass ceiling brings in more light. Cafés are already operating and vendors are having a little breakfast, chatting with each other before going back to their stalls. I sat down had my coffee as well, accompanied by buttered breads – perfect start of the day.
I continued my walk through the aisles to get an overview of all the 50 or so stalls. The more stalls I saw the more I got excited: yes this is an epicentre of French food and cuisine! All the meat cuts with clear provenance of French regions from quality producers. The bounty of French artisan cheeses and pâtés. Seafood as used in high scale restaurants, smoked salmon which is still sliced by hand in front of the customer. Artisan French breads which are definitely different to those available at supermarkets or ordinary bakeries.
I believe everything needed in high quality for classic French cuisine is available there, not so much from other countries. Okay, vegetables and fruit are not so well represented. I was not so impressed by the chocolate makers and wine vendors, probably because they did not get my attention as they seemed to be rather brands than artisan producers. Not sure if I was too biased.
And – good for tourists – there is enough ready made food to be eaten on the spot.
After the first round walking around where I felt like in a Christmas Wonderland, overwhelmed by the quality choice, I slowed down to enjoy the individual stalls. It was worth it.
The butchers showed meat from all kinds of regions, well labelled and presented: sheep which comes from the Mont Saint Michel region – the pre-salted ones as they are called since the grass they are feeding off has higher salt content; beef from distinct regions of France I have not heard of (e.g. Aubrac, Salers); veal raised by the mother (cow) and not separated; wild rabbits from Garenne, still in their fur (to prove that is truly game?); wild ducks; all parts of the pork which can be cooked: feet, ears and the like; the famous Bresse chicken.
The sausage side was rich as well: ham from all regions of Europe (Parma, Aosta valley, Serrano …), salamis, blood sausage, Figatellu from Corsica (liver sausage) and more. All the pâtés looked fabulous, I have never seen so many in one place.
One thing which always fascinated me since I tried it the first time in my life is French goose liver. It is one of those products where I have constantly the pictures of forced fed geese in my mind, but it is very hard to resist the temptation … For those who cannot resist they will find a very nice choice in this market hall.
The breads displayed at one stall were labelled like I have never seen it before: how the flour was milled, what type of flour grade was used, duration of fermentation, type of yeast etc. I bought some of and enjoyed it a lot. One bakery was based on a type of franchise model with a dozen or so bakeries in France. The focus is high quality and teaching their independent bakers in the right methods usage of products to have breads and pastries of superior quality. Even though I am sceptical on franchise models when it comes to food, I had to admit that the products did not look ordinary at all.
Despite being quite far from the sea, the market hall offers a great selection of seafood: live lobster, spiny lobster, oysters from all kinds of origins, scallops in their shells, sea snails, shrimps, … Of course the fish selection matched it easily, including Norwegian and Scottish smoked salmon, angler, but also huge fish livers – I forgot from which fish, but maybe you can identify it in the picture gallery.
The choice of artisan cheeses matched the overall approach of the market hall, the French regions were well represented. Be it from cow, sheep or goat milk. As I am spoiled by my favourite cheese vendor at the Siegburg market where I live close by, I did not pay enough attention to the great offering.
Other delicacies were artisan pasta, specialities like quenelle de Lyon, beautiful candied fruit, great pork cracklings called “grattons“. The latter I got to know as the French guide of an American food tourist group referred to it and warned not to eat to many of them. A warning I did not take serious after the purchase, the cracklings really tasted just great without any bad after-effects, home made ones would not beat them.
Market halls are not only places where to buy produces and have a close contact to vendors and other customers, but they are also place where you may eat and munch your way through. The market hall of Lyon is no exception and the choices vary greatly. From a simple breakfast coffee to sophisticated little things like a fish mousse with shrimps, the offering is wide. Still it covers more French than international cuisine, some exceptions like Paella and fresh pasta co-exist easily with lobster, spiny lobster dishes and Burgundy food. There is certainly no need to leave the hall for lunch …
Summarizing my visit
I went to the market hall at around 9 o’clock in the morning when the vendors were preparing the day, sharing coffees together and taking a deep breath for the rest of the day when things got a bit more crowded. So diving in was made easy for me, vendors had still time to answer my questions and I could take pictures without disturbing anyone. And to me the visit was a great experience, I did not regret being there a single moment and seeing the famous French cuisine alive and kicking at least on the more traditional side.
All in all: One of the great places to be for produce & food – representing France at its best – a must see
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