Finding a satisfying lunch, or coffee, on a budget can be tricky when you’re new to a city. Here are a few tips for keeping your belly and wallet full in Lyon.
On moving to Lyon I expected to become fully immersed in French culture – I’d wake up listening to Françoise Hardy, navigate the famously tedious paperwork whilst installed in a tobacco-stained café and maybe even pick up a bit of French language.
What I failed to realise would be the biggest culture shock of all wasn’t the music, bureaucracy or even language, but the daily eating habits and rituals of the French.
“What really took me aback was the quotidian, ‘affordable’ lunchtime food culture”.
Now, I don’t mean that I wasn’t expecting a hell of a lot more cheese, meat and cream to enter my diet; taking visiting friends and family to sample the life-altering, meat-filled menus of Lyonnais Bouchons has always been a part of the plan.
Similarly the fact that eating a pain au chocolat for breakfast is totally acceptable here, was – if I’m being honest – a very strong draw to the continent. No, what really took me aback was the quotidian, ‘affordable’ lunchtime food culture.
On practically every high street in the UK you can find a Pret a Manger, Tesco metro, or even a Greggs, and purchase – anytime between the hours of 5am to as late as 1.30am (disclaimer: Branch hours may vary) a reliably edible, reasonably fresh, and really quite filling, egg mayonnaise sandwich for as little as £1.50.
The quality will be so consistent that you can rest assured that if you were on the other side of the country, you’re tea would be exactly the same. Not so in France. Much to my chagrin – I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting for an appropriate context to plop that phrase into – oh la la, oh no no! It is very different here.
Bakeries are a serious business and the homogenous lunchtime cuisine of England has yet to have swallowed France. Whilst this does in theory mean that quality and character prevail, it also means that finding an affordable and easy option takes a certain amount of savoir-faire.
“Pre-filled baguettes are not at all cheap in France”
I should add – I am not proud of the fact that my bourgeois hampering for a reasonably priced, mass-produced, egg-based sandwich has been the biggest lifestyle change that I’ve had to overcome since moving here. In fact it’s downright embarrassing.
But, if like me, you find yourself at lunchtime on a Tuesday, running between meetings and searching for a sarnie and a coffee (oh, the trails of finding a milky coffee are an entirely different ball game…) for under a fiver then I may be able to help you.
Firstly – think outside of the sandwich. I know it’s difficult but this is the first step to realising your lunch for under five euros. Pre-filled baguettes and buns are seriously filled and not at all cheap in France (unless you go for the really budget motorway option which, frankly, is an extremely acquired taste).
Taste the local Quiche Lorraine
Go for the quiche, Lorraine! Whilst the mini-Tesco rendition may make you quiver, the quiche in its original French bakery form brings you all the delight of an avocado-based pret a manger sandwich – for much the same, if not better, value.
If you have time to spare then I strongly recommend buying a baguette and a pot of hummus and eating it along the bank of the Saone.
This is one of the cheapest and most rewarding ways of eating lunch in Lyon, or indeed anywhere in the world.
My tips for ordering coffee in Lyon
Tips for ordering coffee in France – that is, milky (English) coffee: Beware, simply ordering a ‘café’ as this will result in an espresso, if you’re looking (like me) for a full – Americano-style – mug then make sure to say ‘Café allongé’. For milk – I advise against ordering a cappuccino as it tends to cost a lot more – ‘Café crème’ or ‘café au lait’ usually works.
Failing that, there is always (the one concession to Americanised dining) Starbucks, perhaps the only place in France where ‘latte-frappe-cappuccino-mochay’ is said and understood every other sentence. But beware – you will feel like a prize tourist as you walk out with an overly relieved expression (and pocket).
Depending on where you are in the city there are loads of cafés and salon de thes to try, either just for a good coffee or a light – sit down – lunch.
Here are a few that I’d recommend:
Near La Part-Dieu Station:
Croix Rousse, Hotel de Ville:
La Boite a Café, Nuage Cafe, Torü, Le Tasse Livre – perfect for taking your time with a coffee and a good book, Diploid, Puzzle Café, Slake Coffee House, Bomp – arguably the best chips in town, Broc Bar – allows customers to bring their own food to the table.
Further South, towards Perrache:
Between Guillotière and Jean Mace:
Kaova Café, Le Kitchen Café