How do you choose your vacation destination? Based on beautiful monuments, grand landscapes or nice weather? What about food? Forget about snobby restaurants and expensive bills — Babbel will take you on a tour of the street food capitals of Europe. Here are our picks for the top 10 best cities to find European street food!
The Best European Street Food Around The Continent
1. Berlin, Germany
Let’s start our tour of European street food with the German capital. Ich hätte gern eine Currywurst mit Pommes (grilled sausage with curry powder and fries) will probably be one of the most useful phrases to add to your survival vocabulary. What makes Berlin special is how it represents the diversity of international street food better than any other European city. From Alexanderplatz to Markthalle 9 in the lively Kreuzberg district, the culinary specialties are inspired by Turkey, Thailand, Italy, Colombia and more. Willkommen in Berlin!
2. Budapest, Hungary
With its neo-gothic and neo-baroque architecture, Budapest is a delight for the eyes. Lángos (cheesy bread), palacsinta (Hungarian pancake) and kürtőskalács (spit cake with an unpronounceable name, but so good!), are sure to delight your taste buds. The Hungarian capital also has its own street food market, Karavan, quite popular in the evening for locals and tourists alike.
3. Madrid, Spain
Brush up on your Spanish because when it comes to street food, Madrid also sets the bar very high. From bocadillo de calamares (calamari sandwich) to empanadas (or empanadillas for a quick bite), as well as paella and churros con chocolate for the sweet tooth, you don’t know where to look… or bite! Just like Karavan in Budapest, Madrid also has a dedicated street food area, simply called the MadrEat market. While you’re at it, don’t forget to say Quisiera una sangría (o una cerveza), por favor.
4. Lisbon, Portugal
The specialities of Portugal aren’t as well known as those from Spain… for now! Because when you see someone’s eyes sparkle after a taste of pastel de nata or a piece of bacalhau in Brás for the first time, you quickly understand that Lisbon is a serious contender for the title of European capital of street food. Abre o apetite, it opens the appetite, as the inhabitants of the Queen of Tagus say.
5. Palermo, Italy
Who can compete with Italian cuisine? (Besides France, perhaps.) Naples can be proud of being the birthplace of pizza, an iconic dish that has conquered the whole world. But no Italian city honors street food like Palermo. In the Sicilian capital, eating in the street (and in the sun!) is a veritable institution. If the stigghiole (lamb intestines seasoned with lemon and rolled on a leek) and pane con la milza (veal lung sandwich) leave you a bit perplexed, we’re sure that the panelle and crocchè will get your mouth watering. Unless you prefer to order arancini, the famously flavorful stuffed rice balls. Cinque arancini, per favore… or however many you want.
Arancini or arancine? In English, there’s some disagreement about what to call cookies. Or is it biscuits? It’s a question that Sicilians will understand very well when it comes to their arancini — or is it arancine? In Palermo, and in western Sicily in general, it’s the feminine term arancina (plural arancine) that’s most commonly used. The word is derived from arancia (orange, the fruit) and as a snack it’s round like a ball. In Catania, however — and in eastern Sicily in general — it’s more common to say arancino (masculine, from arancio) and arancini in the plural. And in this case, it’s shaped more like a cone, which is somewhat reminiscent of Mount Etna.
6. Valetta, Malta
Hob biz zejt. Don’t be intimidated by the word! Enjoy this small Maltese sandwich that smells like the Mediterranean and is made with tomato sauce, olive oil, and tuna with a glass of Kinnie, a soft drink native to the island. For vegetarians, a great alternative would be pastizzis, a puff pastry in the shape of a diamond filled with ricotta or mashed peas (hinting at the history as a British colony). And you can find them in bakeries around the country.
7. Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina
In the heart of the Balkans, Sarajevo is a crossroads of cultures. The Ottoman Empire left behind a strong heritage, both in the architecture and the cuisine. The proof is in the böreks, the puff pastries filled with cheese, spinach and meat that you can find everywhere. The same is true for the hot chestnut vendors in the streets of the old town. But the Balkan street food trophy undoubtedly belongs to ćevapi, grilled meat flavored with onions served in warm bread. Since 2018, the city holds the Sarajevo StreeAt Food Festival in the summer.
8. Istanbul, Turkey
Turkey is not at all lacking in original recipes when it comes to street food. Besides the döner popularized in Germany, Istanbul gives you the choice between dolmas (stuffed grape leaves) and lahmacun (thin crispy pizza) to eat on the go — which makes it all the more worthwhile to visit this gigantic city bridging Europe and Asia. It’s common to accompany those foods with ayran, a salty yoghurt drink that you’ll either love or hate (personally, I love it). We find the same variety among the desserts to eat on the go, including baklava, lokmas and dondurmas (Turkish ice cream). But the symbol of Istanbul remains the simit, which is sold in traditional red kiosks. It’s a kind of pretzel with sesame seeds that you can eat even if you’re not exactly hungry. Çok lezzetlidir!
9. Brussels, Belgium
When someone mentions Brussels, what comes to mind? French fries, mussels, and beer. Of course, the French fry bars have largely contributed to raise the EU capital to rank highly among street food in Europe… as long as you order your fries with mayonnaise! Famous in Belgium is the filet américain, which is in fact a kind of raw steak that you can spread on a sandwich, but the caricoles, snails to eat on the go, are just as tasty. For a snack, how could you not be tempted by a Belgian waffle topped with sugar, chocolate, strawberries, or whipped cream? The competition between the Brussels and Liège waffles is hot, and Babbel can’t make the choice for you. And if you want to practice your Dutch, order some smoutebollen, those little round doughnuts. Lekker!
10. Nice, France
And what about France? Does it deserve a place in our ranking of the street food capitals in Europe? When we think of French cuisine, we mostly think of five-star restaurants and famous chefs. And yet, French street food is continuing to develop. First of all, there are of course crêpes, savory or sweet, which you can take and eat on the go. But that’s not all. If Paris is the economic and cultural capital, Nice steals the show from Lyon, the gastronomic capital of France, when it comes to street food. On the menu: socca (chickpea cake), pissaladière (pizza-like flatbread) and the legendary pan bagnat (sandwich with raw vegetables, eggs and fish)!
A version of this article was originally posted on the French edition of Babbel Magazine.