Is there really anything better than street food? It can be eaten at any time of the day since it does not fall into any meal category; the people creating it are always so passionate about their product because they specialize in it, and the best way to enjoy it is as a second lunch or second dinner because let’s be honest, street eats are not really snack size. That’s what makes it so fun. Indulging in a rich, flavorful handheld food item perfectly designed to make your mouth water and crave it every moment after you finish it is the definition of street food.
Looking back on my time in Europe, I wish I tried more street food. My friends and I would get so stuffed at brunch that we hardly had an appetite for dinner. Most of the time, we got our street food fix at lunch sharing a tasty treat we passed while wandering around different cities. I don’t know if this happens to anyone else, but I always have so many plans for what I want to try that I end up losing track of how much I can actually eat without feeling like there is a brick in my stomach. This dilemma is why sharing is sometimes key to being able to try everything I want to while traveling (or just dedicating a whole day to street food). Despite not planning well and having no self-control to leave enough room for my beloved second lunches and dinners, I still tried some of Europe’s classic street foods. These were my favorites…
French Fries & Stroopwafels
Like my trip to Prague, I was lucky enough to have a friend studying abroad in Amsterdam who had a chance to vet all of the best French fry hot spots before my visit. The difference comes down to the toppings. Some fry places are more creative than others and offer exciting combinations like the famous Vlaams Friteshuis Vleminckx. The self-proclaimed “sauce masters” offer 25 different kinds that can top the fried spuds they have been selling for over 55 years. The oorlog mix is one of their most popular toppings. Our boat tour guide said this mix of mayonnaise, chopped onions and peanut satay sauce could cure any hangover, and indeed fixed many of hers over the past years. The flavor profile is near-perfect. The onions provide a strong bite that cuts through the sweetness of the satay sauce while the creamy mayonnaise and salty fries balance out the boldness of both the onion and peanut flavor. You will definitely need water to wash this down and maybe a long walk, but be sure to save room for a stroopwafel.
Amsterdam may be the undeclared winner of street food in Europe. I was blown away by their fries and again by my first stroopwafel experience. To be completely honest, I never understood the obsession with these circular treats. I had no idea they were actually thin cookies that taste like the best graham cracker ever sandwiched together with warm caramel. With the chocolate drizzled on top, this was, believe it or not, more rich than my cone of french fries. I lean much more toward savory foods. Sweets always sit a little heavier with me, but wow was this worth it. Every time I see this picture, I am instantly transported back to this moment that I can only describe as a true foodgasm.
Gelato & Paninis
From left to right: Three euro gelato cups from La Carraia, six euro gelato cups from Don Nino and a 4.50 euro cup from Sbrino. Photo (1) by: Veronika Bedard, my friend. Photos (2&3) by: Meg Williams
My love for gelato after living in Florence for four months is endless. Whether it was a cold rainy night or a bright sunny day, my friends could always find me eating gelato. It was a slow burn. My true affection for this creamy frozen delight started with my first taste of salted peanuts from La Carraia. This shop makes the best gelato in Florence. I stopped trying other places when I realized none of the offerings came close to the amount of flavor packed into La Carraia’s. They are not too sweet or dyed neon colors. They are homemade, natural and perfect. The best of the best is a three euro cup with salted peanuts and cookies. Before I tried this, I alternated between ordering their coconut and hazelnut flavors. Both are seriously amazing, but one day I saw salted peanuts in the case. I paired it with cookies because I thought if the salted peanuts is bad, at least it will be masked by chocolate cookie chunks. Luckily for me, it was mind-blowing, and I never looked back.
If you cannot make it to La Carraia, two other very solid options for gelato are Sbrino and Don Nino. Don Nino is right next to the Duomo and a bit more expensive than Sbrino and Carraia, but is very convenient. They also drizzle chocolate on top and give you a little wafer with your gelato. Don Nino appeals to an Instagram aesthetic with a decorative logo, stacks of chocolate covered cones, colorful pastries and a well-designed interior space. Sbrino is relatively new in Florence and prides itself on crafting artisan gelato by using local milk and ingredients. My favorite flavor here is speculoos, which tastes like Trader Joe’s Cookie butter.
Whatever you do when looking for great gelato in Florence, avoid any mounds piled high dyed bright neon colors. This gelato is full of preservatives and costs much more than what you should pay. These places are tourist traps and line many streets in the historic center. Avoid them at all cost!
Left: My favorite panino place in Florence Panini Toscani is located right next to the Duomo. Right: All’Antico Vinaio is the Florence fan favorite, but the long lines and rushed service make it difficult to have a personable experience. Photos by: Meg Williams
Everyone has their own opinions about their favorite panini place just like everyone has their own opinions about their favorite gelato place. Paninis are a bit more hard to nail down to one best place. My friends and I were all in agreement about La Carraia’s gelato, but we always fought about who made the best panini. The top three were without a doubt: Panini Toscani (my favorite and many of my friends), All’Antico Vinaio (the world’s favorite) and Pino’s (two votes from my friends).
At Panini Toscani, customers are welcomed by the meat and cheese man. Each time you go, no matter how many times you have gone before, he will always let you taste the five local cheeses and three meats they use on their sandwiches. I am a sucker for a free sample. It is the reason I always accompany my mom to Costco. This aspect alone is one of the reasons I am a die hard Panini Toscani fan. The environment is welcoming, and they give you time to pick your toppings then toast your panini. This small shop beats out All’Antico Vinaio because they pay attention to their customers. All’Antico is very much get in and get out. It is not an experience. Sure their paninis are good, but it is difficult to customize your own sandwich, and they do not toast them. Pino’s is good if you are looking for a more American style panini. They have breaded chicken cutlets, turkey and meatball subs alongside the classic Italian cured meats. My ranking is Panini Toscani, All’Antico Vinaio then Pino’s. Don’t forget to walk your panini to a picturesque spot along the Arno or in Palazzo Vecchio!
The macaron is an iconic symbol of Paris’ food scene. It is right up there with the baguette or a plate of escargot. They are beautiful and delicate. Crafting the perfect macaron takes dedicated practice and skill. These small cookies make a great street food because you can find a bakery that sells them on every corner. Ditch your bar crawl and try a macaron crawl, so you can explore all of the unique flavors they come in. My favorites tend to lean toward the fruity side like strawberry and blackberry, but I also love caramel and chocolate. There is a macaron out there for everyone, even those who are gluten-free because they are made with almond flour. Grab a box with a variety of colors, and take a perfect foodie photo like this one in front of Versailles.
Prague Sausages & Trdelníks
The food in Prague was so fun. Everything seemed to have character and history to it, just like the city itself. The street food here is sold in tiny little shacks filled to the brim with rotisseries and large griddles to cook. One of the most ubiquitous street eats is the Prague sausage, or as my friend Ronnie likes to call it, the Prague dog. It was hard to know where to get one from, so we followed the crowd to Old Town Square. My vendor let me chose the toppings I wanted and offered two different dogs, spicy or regular. Of course I had to get spicy and top it with jalapeños and mayonnaise. If you just want this as a snack, be sure to find your street food friend to share it with because they are very filling.
A few hours after you finish your dog, you may be hungry again from walking around and taking in all of the city sights. This means it is time for a trdelník. These chimney cakes are great because they come on their own or can be filled with strawberries, Nutella, whipped cream or ice cream depending on how hungry you are. The pastry itself has a soft exterior rolled in cinnamon sugar, but becomes crunchy toward the center. The texture is amazing. Make sure your trdelník is fresh off the spit, so it is warm and not all crunchy. The soft outside is key to this dessert. Like the sausage, vendors for this treat are everywhere. My advice is to follow the sweet, sugary smell and look for a busy shack to ensure you get the perfect treat.
A few days before I left for Vienna, my friend Marissa said I had to go to Bitzinger sausage. She told me there were so many sausages to choose from that are all served in a hollowed out roll with a choice of toppings. I was immediately intrigued by the thought of my dog in a hollowed out roll. We easily found the stand because of the long line wrapping around it. The menu was a bit overwhelming because we had no idea what the difference was between each sausage. Since I love a spicy dog, I ordered the currywurst with ketchup and mayo in my roll. Not only is this a novelty street food, but it tasted amazing too. The sauces all fell to the bottom, which was the only problem with it, but the excess made for a great french fry dipping sauce. This is also a sharable street eat and will probably keep you full for most of the day.
This is only a small collection of all of the street food these cities have to offer. Be sure to keep an eye out while exploring to find the street eats that speak to you. Don’t forget to grab your best foodie friend too, so you can indulge and share with them!