When a friend posted a status update that he would soon be arriving in the temple de la gastronomie, within seconds I was on the net fervently searching for a ticket to join him. I was yearning to escape Paris city life and experience ‘the real France’. I wanted the fabled land of fat-bellied waiters with bushy moustaches offering delectable feasts of tradition and culture, of joie de vivre. I wanted to be swept up in the timeless beauty that France promises all hopeless romantics. I was going to Lyon.
Our plan was to meet at Opera de Lyon and to go for dinner. I had a vague memory of an article I’d read months before about a traditional type of restaurant that was particular to the region, something about local bistros offering delicious home-style cooking. My friends hadn’t heard of them, but we all agreed that we should brave the local fare, none of us having any clue of what that actually was.
So off we ventured, three wide-eyed novices with hardly a word of French between us.
Our untamed noses and grumbling bellies led us through the narrow cobblestoned streets. Around the corner we saw a neon sign, Le Bouchon depuis 1937. Peering inside, the place was oozing with une atmosphère conviviale! Twisting and twirling chefs passing plate after plate to the waiters for service, satisfied customers wiping up thick brown sauce with their crusty bread as an endless supply of red wine sloshed around in their bottomless glasses. It was just what we were looking for. Although, with the beauty of hindsight, the countless blackboard menus shaped like smiling pink pigs wearing chef’s hats and red-checkered aprons should have given us a clue, but who was to know.
Our waiter acknowledged our arrival by a quick nod of the head that directed us to the table. He brought over the menus but before we’d sat down, there was a loud yell from the kitchen, the menus were dumped on the table, an empty wine glass lost its balance and our waiter disappeared. Within seconds, he was back, pen poised at the ready to take our order. I barely managed, ‘Ahhhh, une minute s’il vous plaît’. Pause. Silence. All heads in the restaurant slowly turned. He realised, ‘Merde! Ils sont anglais!’ He rapidly rattled off something that seemed utterly impossible to be actually made up of words, and I blankly replied ‘Oui’, and he left. Thankfully, moments later, a carafe of the local Beaujolais arrived.
In Paris, I haven’t had many problems with menus, but I couldn’t recognise a thing on this one, and there were only eight meals to choose from. ‘I think the Cocotte is chicken. Yes,’ I told my friends confidently; ‘it’s young chicken’. When our waiter returned, we asked, ‘Parlez-vous anglais?’ ‘Oui’, he proudly beamed. ‘Qu’est-ce que le rognons en cocotte?’ ‘Euhhh.. soup’, he replies. ‘Très bien, chicken soup for three!’ The chuffed waiter returned to the kitchen with our order, all of us proud of our accomplishment.
As we began to settle into the rest of what should’ve been the more relaxed part of our evening, the couple seated beside us started to argue. The older, obviously very drunk man, was gorging himself on brown sauce-soaked baguette, like everyone else in the restaurant it seemed, while his lady friend, who was young enough to be his daughter, repeatedly banged her pointed finger down on the table, obviously making a very important point. Breaking the tension, our waiter arrived with our soups. Famished, we lifted the soup bowl lids to discover a hot steaming bowl of, surprise, surprise, thick swampy brown soup! Stirring the murky contents, something that resembled what you’d find in a toilet bowl suddenly appeared on my spoon! ‘What’s that?? That’s not chicken! It’s kidneys!’ We had ordered kidney soup! Our bodies just froze, our eyes darting around, searching each others’…what do we do?
The couple beside us had suddenly become very quiet; in fact, the whole restaurant had become very quiet. I didn’t want to look up, so with all the courage I could muster, I took a piece of bread, smiled politely and bravely dipped in. With soppy brown baguette just millimetres from my open mouth, the man sitting beside us promptly got up, aimed his behind in our direction and let a quite long and bubbly one rip!! Did he just..? Then, very casually, he just sat back down, poured himself some more wine and continued to feed his face with more brown-sauced baguette!
Suddenly, all mayhem broke loose and my dripping baguette that had remained suspended during the whole incident eventually arrived at its final destination, my side plate. Throwing her arms up in the air, the woman began the classic, but secretly cute, French tirade of reproach; he just sat there rubbing his bloodshot eyes, wondering what the hell was going on. The lady picked up her bag and started to leave but then decided to come to our table. As she leaned over us and delivered her monologue, we looked up at her, nodding politely, assuming she was apologising. Then, the man came over to join us. He gave us all big smiles, patted his belly, put his arm around his lady friend, wished us well (I think) and then off they went!
Completely unaware, our proud English-speaking waiter broke our stunned silence, ‘Euhhh.. voudriez vous… would …euhhh dessert?’
Le Bouchon Lyonnais
34 Rue de la Claire
04 78 83 57 84
Amanda is an unemployed documentary filmmaker and aspiring writer living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, Paris. In her spare time, which she has a lot of, she thoroughly enjoys exploring the artistry of words and language, writing articles, poetry and short stories. You can contact her at [email protected].