Well, the French are fabulous for regarding their lunch time as sacred. According to some research, around 60% of them have lunch at restaurants every day. I was told by a French friend of mine in the past that people are taught from childhood to have lunch at a table with a napkin indulging in meals. French children and youngsters are served 4 dishes plus cheese at school cafeterias every day. When they grow up and become adults government continues looking after them. There’s a government programme which sponsors employers and they finance their employees’ meals at lunch. If you want to see all this at its peak, you should definitely go to the “cradle of work lunch” and “the capital of the French gastronomy”, i.e. to Lyon. And do you know why it’s nicknamed like this? Because …..
The Romans established the settlement of Lugudunum in 43 BC around two rivers. It enlarged and became an important trade centre soon after its establishment and later it turned into the capital of the Roman region of Gaul. The town competed only with ancient Rome at that time. Later, in the 15th century, Italian merchants of silk came here, built beautiful, colourful houses (many of them still preserved) and flourished the silk production and trade. They imported the precious textile to the town and it was the major vocation and craft in Lyon for lots of centuries. They started silk fairs and thus they flourished production and exchange of silk and the town became an important trade silk centre (step-by-step it was the only importer of silk in Europe in the 18th century). All these silk traders and merchants as well as the bourgeois visited bouchons where they had a meal (early morning machon and then lunch), drank, did business and exchanged thoughts. I expect to be asked by you what a bouchon and machon is. Are you curious to learn about them? 🙂 Here we go.
Nowadays the Lyonnaise classical places where you can have lunch are called bouchons and are mainly a tourist attraction. They adopted that name from these sticks of straw from the times when the town was an important stop for horses and coaching when going from the Alps to the Massif Central. Tired and exhausted travellers stopped there to have a meal and a night sleep, and their horses to have a rest, too.
Being at a bouchon today, for sure, you will be served a machon. And what’s a machon? Briefly, it’s an early lunch at 9 am. Yes, it’s neither breakfast nor lunch. In other words said, people from Lyon have breakfast and after that they continue with their early machon (mamma mia …. what a lunch at 9 am with salads, other rich dishes, sausages and so on). The latter doesn’t stop them at all from having a French-style lunch at 2 pm as well.
And who developed and flourished les bouchons in Lyon? Whose was the merit? It happened in the first half of the 20th century with the coming of the so-called Lyonnaise mothers. The culinary skills of these ladies were legendary and their fame was spread in whole France. The mothers of Lyon were servants and cooks in the town’s rich and bourgeois families. They managed to use cunningly the wonderful local ingredients to create simple but perfect and extremely delicious meals. Unfortunately, the First World War had a very strong, negative impact over the French economy. Their bourgeois “masters” went bankrupt and sold out their beautiful and big houses. And all this reflected over these nice woman cooks – they became unemployed. They couldn’t do anything else in life but cook. That’s why they started work as chefs at les boouchons. Thus these local restaurants turned into ordinary but lovely places in which wonderfully cooked meals were served. When first automobiles appeared, the number of clients from near and far increased enormously and Lyon became famous for its local cuisine. And even the town was declared a “world capital of gastronomy”.
And to end up this post, I will tell you a curious fact about the traditional Lyonnaise Salad. The frisée Salade Lyonniase is made of bacon, hard-boiled eggs, baguette and dandelion leaves. When there were neither refrigerators nor washing-machines washerwomen fetched the piles of dirty clothes to the river. They also carried baskets full of bacon, hard-boiled eggs and baguette. You yourselves see that these are the three of the ingredients used for the salad. As for dandelion leaves, they were picked up by these ladies on their way to the river. Thus washerwomen had the four elements for their salad and they mixed them up in a bowl at lunch time. The traditional recipe has remained unchanged since then. So, if you happen to be in Lyon, don’t miss to include Lyonnaise Salad in your machon at a local bouchon. Have good time. 🙂