A bouchon is a restaurant that serves food originating from the Lyon area of France. The cuisine is specialized to the region and includes rich, often fat-laden, meat-heavy foods, such as sausage and liver. Many restaurants classify themselves as bouchon, but a true bouchon must earn a national certification from a review board.
This style of restaurant originally appeared in the Lyon region in the 1600s and 1700s at small inns catering to workers traveling through the area. The word “bouchon” literally means “cork” or “stopper” in English, but the term for the restaurants likely has a different word origin dating back to the 1600s. Restaurateurs specializing in this kind of cuisine pride themselves on creating a jovial, informal atmosphere for their guests. They also serve meats that may be considered unusual compared to typical restaurant fare.
There are only about 20 true bouchons in or near Lyon, France. To earn certification, a restaurant must be approved by the Association for the Preservation of Lyonnais Bouchons. This association reviews restaurants based on the authenticity of their preparation of traditional Lyon dishes. Certified restaurants display a special sticker to signify their inclusion in the association. These restaurants are often small, unassuming establishments.
Bouchons often serve foods from which some restaurant-goers might shy away. Historically, these establishments served nearly every part of an animal, from the brains to the hooves, and Lyonnaise restaurants continue this tradition in, perhaps, a slightly less extreme form. Tripe soup, made from animal intestines, is a popular appetizer in a bouchon, as is a salad topped with chicken livers. Bone marrow and blood sausage are also traditional finds on the menu.
Mustard is also an important component of a bouchon’s menu, as it is a popular condiment in the Lyon region and is served as a dipping sauce for dishes such as breaded tripe. The main course, however, is usually the focus of a bouchon. These kinds of restaurants typically deemphasize desserts and do not have an extensive dessert menu.
The idea of a bouchon has crossed the ocean into many restaurants in America, although few would qualify as serving true traditional Lyonnaise fare. Most so-called bouchons in the United States serve simply “French” food, drawing cuisine choices largely from Paris or other parts of the country. Exotic meats such as tripe are rarely found on American menus. There are also several bakeries in the United States that refer to themselves as bouchons.