Charlotte – Semester Exchange to Catholic University of Lyon, France
Semester 1, 2017
“I don’t like cheese.” – not Charlotte.
Cheese is my favourite food. Coincidentally, (100% percent deliberate) I am on exchange in the most cheese-obsessed country in the world; just one of the reasons I love France.
Lyon is known as one of the gastronomic capitals of the world! A traditional Lyonnais restaurant is called a ‘bouchon’. I have had the opportunity to taste many traditional Lyonnais and traditional French foods and dishes over the past 5 months. One of the first, and my main stomach focus when I arrived though, was cheese. I knew I wanted to try lots and lots of new cheese varieties. I quickly adopted the habit of asking new people I met what their favourite cheese was, then added it to my list for sampling.I keep a list in the ‘notes’ section of my phone which chronicles the French cheeses I have tried so far (that I remembered to write down the names of – in between bites of course!). I have definitely tried many more than these, but it gives you a rough idea. The list:
- Epoisses (the inaugural wheel)
- Rocomadour Chèvre
- Brillat Savain aus Truffles
- Tomme de Savoie
- Tête de Moine
- Chèvre Cendre
- Tommette Elutcha
- Fromage de Brebis
- Brie de Meaux
In addition to cheeses, I have also tried some other French specialties. I went to a traditional bouchon in Lyon called ‘Café Comptoir Abel’. Some of the dishes I tried:
This is quite a simple dish. It reminded me of a Caesar salad actually. It contains green leaves, warm croutons, sautéed bacon and a soft poached egg.
This dish is traditionally Lyonnaise! It is not visually appealing at all. It looks sort of like an oval shaped dinner roll. Its texture is similar to a doughy-dumpling. A quenelle is most commonly cooked in a dish of béchamel sauce. Definitely unique and unlike anything I’ve tried before.
Fond D’artichaut Frais au Foie Gras
This was presented as a small ‘slab’ of foie gras (duck liver paté) on cooked artichoke. I think unless you’re surrounded by it as much as the French, foie gras is more of an acquired taste. I have even found it in sushi here!
Tarte aux Pralines
This is a very thin biscuit-like tart base with a very bright pink praline filling. It is a popular replacement for cake on birthdays. If done properly, it is the most indulgent treat!
There are two different types of bugnes’, fine and crisp, and plump and fluffy. This is usually due to regional differences; the ‘bugnes lyonnaises’ are thinner.
In addition, I have come across certain food traditions that differ from those in Australia. When I arrived in Lyon in January in every supermarket, café or bakery were cakes called a ‘Galette des Rois’ (‘Cake of the Kings’). French people eat a slice of this cake to celebrate the arrival of the Three Wise Men in Bethlehem. The cake is made from puff pastry and filled with frangipane, a cream made from almonds, butter, eggs and sugar.
Another food difference I noticed was around Easter time. All the chocolate shops and supermarkets were selling chocolate church bells and chocolate fish. There is a tradition in France that Easter eggs are delivered by a church bell to everybody on Easter day, not necessarily the Easter bunny. As for the chocolate fish, it is not clear why there are so many of them around, but it may have something to do with the French April fools tradition ‘poisson d’avril’. Either way, chocolate will still taste good whether it’s in the shape of a church bell, a fish or an egg.