La Rue Paul Bert: The Arabian Lights of Lyon

You come to Lyon for the French language, its culture and cuisine, why then should you go to the lesser frequented Middle-Eastern and Arab quarters?  Like many European countries, France has a rich and multi-cultural population largely thanks to the popular 18th/19th century past time of colonialism.  So it follows that Lyon as the capital of French gastronomy, should reflect the diverse nature of 21st Century France.

Situated in the Part Dieu district of Lyon, opposite la Guillotière metro station, you smell the entrance to Paul Bert before you get there.  And this has nothing to do with it not being the norm to pick up dog excrement in France.  Sweet mint tea, mixed with the complicated spices of a moroccan tagine, barbecued chicken, and rose perfumed baclava.  This (and much more) is what awaits whoever strays down la rue Paul Bert.

If your visit happens to coincide with the Islamic month of Ramadan then you are in for a real treat.  During this period, pious muslims fast during the hours of daylight before filling themselves at sundown.  Some restaurants are transformed into dessert factories, churning out piles and piles of sweet goodies.  While the pavement is lined with bread sellers of all kinds and the air filled with odours and the fast language of a Marrakech souq.  Head to ‘La Palme d’Or’ where Bashir, the proud and smiling Tunisian will tell you all about his varied and colourful baclava, or buy some fresh Moroccan flat bread from a street stand opposite.

Outside of Ramadan, rue Paul Bert is just as, or even more lively.  Whether it’s the more common North-African cuisine you are looking for, or other Middle-Eastern flavours you can try the well-reviewed ‘Le Semazen’ Turkish restaurant.  Or go for a Lebanese lemon juice-seasoned mezze from ‘Liban Market’, where you can also stock up on your Middle-Eastern groceries.  The old wise man of the district has to the ‘Bahadourian’ which has been selling its oriental goods since 1929.  Stocking everything from herbs and halva to chilled bottles of London Pride beer.  A welcome site for the bold (or lost) tourist who emerges bleary-eyed onto the street, head spinning in a cloud of spices.

“You discover a city through its people,” says Aissa an Algerian now living and working in Lyon.  And if it is hospitality you are seeking then Arabs have it in abundance.  Whatever the time of year, you are likely to experience great food and a warm welcome in establishments that give the traditional bouchon lyonnais a run for its money.

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