The Lyonnaise Brunch Tradition Involving Wine And A Lot Of Meat

The city of Lyon in France is a dream destination for anyone who loves architecture, history, and, especially, food. Blog Diva Dolci explains that Lyon is home to 13 restaurants that carry Michelin stars. With roughly 1500 places total to dine, it is officially the city with the most Michelin stars per capita in France. 

Paul Bocouse, who is considered the "father of French nouvelle cuisine," honed his culinary skills in the city and is now emblazoned on the exterior of the esteemed indoor food market, Les Halles de Lyon – Paul Bocouse, which sells the very best of gourmet foods from France and around the world. Here, you can purchase whatever your foodie heart desires for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and perhaps a meal you have never heard of.

Most Americans recognize the aforementioned meals as standard for a typical day. Sometimes brunch is involved. Of course, daily meals aren't the same for everyone; the Brits have high tea, and Hobbits have second breakfasts and elevensies. Those in Lyon are accustomed to a meal that is served in the morning, and that has nothing to do with croissants, omelets, or even coffee. To start, this one involves wine.

A breakfast like no other

People in Lyon do have conventional breakfast and it includes what most French breakfasts do: bread with butter and jam, maybe a pastry, and juice or coffee, per France Hotel Guide. Another option, though, is what is known as mâchon (mah-shone) and it is, indeed, a Lyonnaise specialty. Only Lyon describes mâchon as the French equivalent of a hearty English breakfast. They are served in bouchons — small, informal restaurants in Lyon that typically serve affordable, filling, local food and pitchers of wine, per More Time to Travel.

According to the BBC, the meal usually begins at 9:00 in the morning. Bottles of red and wine from the nearby Beaujolais region are served in abundance in lieu of cafe au laits to wash down what will be a meal of mostly meat, and very often, cuts of meat you aren't used to for breakfast. Mâchons are big on nose-to-tail eating, or dishes that include offal like tripe and kidney. 

Be mindful that in most countries around the world, no part of an animal gets wasted. Today, men and women treat themselves to mâchon in order to enjoy a good, hearty meal with family and friends, but the origin of this unusual meal, which began hundreds of years ago, was about more than just eating and drinking alcohol in the morning.

Hard work builds an appetite

The BBC notes that between the 16th and 19th centuries, Lyon was a leader in Europe's silk industry, which was being sold like hotcakes to France's royalty and elite. The area of Lyon known as Croix-Rousse was home to the industry and its workers, known as Canuts, according to Only Lyon. Working up to 12 hours a day and, often, overnight, the Canuts needed a good meal by the time the sun rose and so local restaurants would open their doors and serve what they could based on their available ingredients for the day, which was usually heavy in pork and beef. 

Rounding out the meal with cheese and local wines, the Canuts refreshed themselves. The abundance of people in one place at one time offered a good opportunity for workers and their superiors to discuss business and make deals. Unusual for its time, mâchons were occasions where men of all social classes were present together without any condemnation, per BBC.

Mâchons have remained in Lyon since those early days but experienced a revival of sorts in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. According to Archyde, an evening curfew was put in place in France during the height of the pandemic, causing restaurants to be closed for their prime dinner hours, and devastating businesses left and right. To survive, many Lyon eateries began serving morning mâchons. A brunch of sorts, the meal is substantial enough to replace lunch altogether.

What will you eat at mâchon?

Cured meats, pates, sausages, and cheese are all standard at mâchon and should be expected, along with copious amounts of red and white wine, per Diva Dolci. According to blogs The Local and MiHotel, some mâchon dishes have included andouille sausages, ham and parsley pate, a creamy herbed cheese known as cervelle de canuts, beef tripe, endive salad, and crispy pork skin called grattons.

Ultimately, Audrey Jaquier who runs the restaurant Le Vivarais with her father says it best: "Mâchon is an excuse to sit back, relax, and share moments over a good meal," via BBC. With an inevitable full belly and pleasant head swooning from the wine, the best thing you can probably do following this unique Lyonnaise experience is to take a walk through this gorgeous city and drink lots of water. You won't need lunch, but a Michelin-starred restaurant is probably nearby for dinner.