If someone were to ask you what European cuisine was, what would you say?
It’s not an easy question, is it?
That’s because Europe is a large and diverse continent with so many unique cultures and therefore an extremely diverse range of local dishes and flavours. It would be wrong to generalise or assume that cuisine from the Nordic countries might be the same as that of those on the Mediterranean coast.
Each country, and even city for that matter, has over time developed its own distinct flavours and delicacies. So when travelling to different European cities, I believe it’s always important to try as much local food as possible.
And one great way to do this is to snack!
Why snack? Well snacking means that you can try as much food as possible while travelling in a cheap and time effective manner.
Rather than sitting down for a 3 course meal every night, gradually spending your entire budget on the city’s top restaurants, sometimes it’s fun to experience the city like a real local and grab a snack instead.
From street food carts and pastry shops to bar snacks and late night fast food, there’s always an opportunity to try some delicious Euro snacks.
So below I’ve put together a list of my favourite European snacks and local fast food dishes in many of the European countries I’ve visited recently, plus my recommendation on the best places to try them…
(Listed in alphabetical order by country. The list will continue to be updated gradually).
Byrek | Byrektore ‘Sejko’
What are Byrek: Traditional Albanian filled pastries made of a thin flaky phyllo dough filled with meat, cheese or spinach.
Where to try Byrek in Durres: The junction of Sheshi Nako Spiru in Durres has become known by the locals as Byrek corner due to the high concentration of Byrek stores in one area. Byrektore ‘Sejko’ is my local friend’s personal favourite.
Personal note: Byrek is eaten by Albanians as a part of any meal or simply as a snack, however, Byrek are particularly popular in the morning and if you want to grab the freshest pastries from Byrek corner make sure to head down early.
Smørrebrød | Mad & Kaffe
What are Smorrebrod: Danish open-face sandwiches consisting of a piece of buttered rye bread covered in toppings such as cold cuts, meats, fish, cheese and spreads.
Where to try Smorrebord in Copenhagen: Mad & Kaffe are a chain of 3 cafes in Copenhagen each decorated to ‘suit the spirit of the local area’. On each of the cafes’ lunch menus you can find a selection of tasty open sandwiches with toppings including veal, potato, avocado and flounder. Mad & Kaffe also have a great coffee offering, which includes hot chocolate, chai lattes and non-dairy milk alternatives.
Personal note: The open sandwiches are tasty but not too filling so make for a lovely brunch or even a mid-afternoon snack.
Address: Vesterbro, Sønder Blvd. 68, 1720 København | Amagerbro, Tyrolsgade 6, 2300 København | Frederiksberg, Godthåbsvej 45 st. th, 2000 København.
Le Fénétra | Le Fénétra
What is Le Fénétra: A typical Toulousian cake made with almonds, candied lemon and apricot jam. The dessert dates back to the Romans who consumed it during the festival of the dead and is named after the traditional celebrations of ‘Férétralia’. Unfortunately, the cake is somewhat dying out amongst the locals, however, it can still be found in traditional bakeries and cafes around the city.
Where to try Le Fénétra in Toulouse: A cafe with the same name, Le Fénétra, is a cosy local spot in the centre of town which specialises in the traditional cake. At Le Fénétra, it is also served with a scoop of tasty violet ice cream (the local flower of Toulouse).
Address: 7 Rue Temponières, 31000 Toulouse, France.
German Pickled Egg | Uerige Obergärige Hausbrauerei
What is a German Pickled Egg: A hard-boiled egg pickled in brine, eaten in a specific way along with mustard, oil and vinegar. Usually served in pubs to accompany a German beer.
How to eat a German Pickled Egg:
- Peel the shell off of the egg.
- Cut the egg in half and remove the egg yolk carefully.
- In the egg white hollow, add a dab of hot mustard and a few drops of oil and vinegar.
- Place the egg yolk back on top.
- Eat each half in one mouthful.
Where to try German Pickled Egg in Dusseldorf: Uerige is a large and well-known craft brewery and gastropub in Dusseldorf’s historic centre, with a bar menu offering many local and traditional delicacies such as frankfurters, liverwurst and goulash.
If you decide to opt for the ‘Two Pickled Eggs’, don’t be surprised when the waiter brings out your eggs alongside containers of hot mustard, oil and vinegar. All you need to do is follow the instructions above to prepare your egg and you’ll fit right in!
Personal note: German Pickled Egg is definitely one of the stronger and more unique Europe snacks, and will probably only be enjoyed by those who, like me, already like the taste of egg and hot mustard.
Address: Uerige, Berger Str. 1, 40213 Düsseldorf, Germany.
Latvian Garlic Bread | Folkklubs ALA pagrabs
What is Latvian Garlic Bread: Quite different from the garlic bread that most people have come to know, Latvian Garlic Bread is dark rye bread fried in butter or oil with raw garlic. This is then served with a garlic and herb sour cream sauce and usually eaten alongside a beer in a pub or bar.
Where to try Latvian Garlic Bread in Riga: Folkklubs ALA pagrabs is an underground restaurant and late night bar in Riga’s Old Town, with the widest range of Latvian beers in the city, modern Latvian food and regular live music. Folkklubs ALA is a fun place to try Latvian Garlic Bread as a part of their ‘beer platter’ which also comes with local cheeses, cured meats and pickles.
Personal note: Make sure to time your visit to Folkklubs ALA for when there’s live music – the atmosphere is great!
Address: Folkklubs ALA pagrabs, Peldu iela 19, Centra rajons, Rīga, LV-1050, Latvia.
Šakotis | Forto Dvaras
What is Sakotis: Sakotis is a Polish-Lithuanian traditional hollow cake made using an egg and butter-rich batter dripped onto a spit over a heat source. The name means ‘branched tree’ due to the distinctive shape the cake takes. Sakotis are usually large in size and are served in Lithuania at big events such as weddings or on special occasions such as Christmas Eve or Easter.
Where to try Sakotis in Vilnius: Forto Dvaras is a chain of Lithuanian restaurants with 4 branches in Vilnius alone and several in cities across the country. Head to Forto Dvaras to sample a traditional Sakotis, with their chocolate drizzled dessert cake fit for a single person (and not an entire wedding party).
Personal note: Even if you’re not after a full meal, pop to Forto Dvaras later in the evening for Sakotis and some strong traditional Lithuanian shots such as starka and suktinis (Lithuanian mead).
Address: Forto Dvaras, Pilies g. 16, Vilnius 01123, Lithuania (most central location).
Bitterballen | Van Dobben
What are Bitterballen: Bitterballen, sometimes also referred to as Dutch Meatballs, are a classic Dutch bar snack and one of the most popular snacks in the whole of the Netherlands. They are bite-sized, deep-fried balls of meat (traditionally beef or veal) and a thick buttery beef sauce. Bitterballen are usually served with a pot of mustard and should be accompanied by a beer.
Where to try Bitterballen in Amsterdam: Van Dobben is a hidden gem in the heart of Amsterdam, regularly frequented by locals for a serving of their favourite fried snack. Van Dobben is a casual spot which somewhat resembles a British greasy spoon or kebab shop, however, most would agree that they serve up the best Bitterballen and kroketten in Amsterdam. Plus the prices are extremely affordable and not hiked up for the tourist trade like much of the city these days.
Personal note: Bitterballen are also similar to kroketten (plural of kroket), which use the same ingredients but are formed into a distinctive log shape instead.
Address: Van Dobben, Korte Reguliersdwarsstraat 5-7-9, 1017 BH Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Kapsalon | Jaffa Shoarma
What is Kapsalon: A Dutch fast food consisting of fries topped with döner or shawarma meat, grilled with a layer of Gouda cheese then covered with a layer of salad, all topped with garlic sauce and/or hot sauce.
Origin of Kapsalon: Kapsalon is the Dutch word for hairdressers, as the dish was originally created when a hairdresser in Rotterdam asked his neighbouring shawarma store to create a dish using all of his favourite ingredients.
Where to try Kapsalon in Rotterdam: Jaffa Shoarma is a late night fast food spot on the lively bar-lined street of Witte de Withstraat in Rotterdam’s Cool District (yes, that is actually what it’s called). The Shoarma shop is open until 6am and serves what many would argue is the best Kapsalon in the city, making it an extremely popular destination with both locals and tourists for a post night out meal.
Personal note: Jaffa Shoarma don’t take card so remember to bring cash with you! The indoor and outdoor seating areas are often full, however, the food is served quickly and therefore the turn around of tables is fast if you do want to eat in.
Address: Jaffa Shoarma, Witte de Withstraat 44, 3012 BR Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Pastel de Nata | Pastéis de Belém
What are Pastel de Nata: Portuguese custard tarts consisting of a pastry crust filled with egg custard and usually sprinkled with cinnamon.
Origin of Pastel de Nata: The Pastel de Nata was created in the 18th century by Catholic monks at the Jerónimos Monastery in the civil parish of Santa Maria de Belem, Lisbon. Due to the 1820 liberal revolution, all convents and monasteries in Portugal were shut down, however, in an attempt to stay open, the Jerónimos Monastery began to sell their sweet pastries to the public from the nearby sugar refinery.
Where to try Pastel de Nata in Lisbon: Pasteis de Belem opened it’s doors in 1837 when the original sugar refinery purchased the Nata recipe from the monks of Jerónimos Monastery. The shop remains in the same spot to this day, and the original secret recipe also remains unchanged.
Personal note: With their reputation for serving the best Pastel de Nata in Portugal, Pasteis de Belem is extremely popular and may require waiting in a queue.
BONUS – Visiting Belem: Belem is a district in the South West of Lisbon, located a short tram ride away from the main city centre. Belem is an interesting area with plenty to see and do, including visiting the unique Belém Tower and Jeronimos monastery, wandering along the Tagus River, admiring the Tropical Botanical Garden and exploring the Belem cultural centre.
Address: Pasteis de Belem, Rua de Belem 84 a 92, Lisbon 1300-085, Portugal
Francesinha | Cafe Santiago
What is Francesinha: A Portuguese sandwich made with layers of bread, wet-cured ham, linguiça (a Portuguese sausage), fresh sausage such as chipolata and steak or roast meat, covered with melted cheese and a hot thick tomato and beer sauce. The sandwich is often served on a bed of french fries and accompanied by a local beer.
Origin of Francesinha: The Francesinha is a typical local dish in Porto, having originated in the city. It is believed that it was invented by Portuguese emigrant Daniel da Silva who returned from living in France and wanted to adapt the ‘croque-monsieur’ to Portuguese tastes.
Where to try Francesinha in Porto: Cafe Santiago has been serving Francesinha to the people of Porto since 1959, with their delicious special sauce (the recipe is a well-kept family secret) earning the restaurant the accolade of the best Francesinha in Porto by those who try it.
Personal note: The Francesinha at Cafe Santiago are extremely large and very filling, so even though I’ve added it to my list of European snacks, you should either turn up with a very big appetite (I managed to almost finish one) or maybe share one between two people if you just wish to try.
Address: Cafe Santiago, R. de Passos Manuel 226, 4000-382 Porto, Portugal
Pierogi | Przystanek Pierogarnia
What are Pierogi: Filled dumplings made of noodle dough wrapped around fillings such as meats, potato, cheese and fruits, cooked in boiling water. Pierogi are the national dish of Poland and are extremely popular all over the country.
Where to try Pierogi in Krakow: Przystanek Pierogarnia is one of the most popular spots for pierogi in Krakow and has 3 ‘Pierogarnia Stations’ in the city. The stations are small and casual canteen-style venues where food is ordered from a hatch in the wall.
Each station serves a selection of savoury pierogi, with fillings including pork, spinach, cottage cheese, bacon and potato, as well as sweet pierogi such as strawberry and cherry which come coated with sugar or cream. The menu also includes other options such as traditional beetroot soup, gnocchi, cabbage rolls and homemade apple pie.
Personal note: Krakow is an affordable city in general, and Przystanek Pierogarnia is no exception, with one very filling portion of their tasty pierogi (10 pieces which can be a single filling or mixed) setting you back around £2.50.
Address: Przystanek Pierogarnia, Bonerowska 14, 33-332 Kraków, Poland (most central location).
Sarmale | Lacrimi si Sfinti
What are Sarmale: Traditional cabbage filled rolls, stuffed with meats such as beef, goose, veal and pork, boiled in white wine and usually served with polenta, sour cream and chilli.
Where to try Sarmale in Bucharest: I guess this doesn’t really count as a European snack as it comes as a full dish in a restaurant, however, Lacrimi si Sfinti serves some of the best Sarmale in Bucharest so had to be included. Located in the city’s Old Town, during the summer months the restaurant has a lovely front terrace where you can enjoy your cabbage rolls and a glass of wine while watching out onto the busy streets of Bucharest.
Personal note: I know that cabbage rolls may not necessarily look or sound like the most appealing European snack, but give them a chance and I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised with their delicious flavour!
Address: Lacrimi si Sfinti, Strada Șepcari, București 030167, Romania.
Kürtőskalács | Kurtoskalacs Cart
What is Kurtoskalacs: Also sometimes called a Chimney cake, Kurtoskalacs is a large hollow sweet-bread roasted on a split over charcoal while basted with melted butter and covered in sugar (which caramelises during the heating process). Once baked, Kurtoskalacs are usually topped with the likes of chocolate, ground walnut or powdered cinnamon.
Origin of Kurtoskalacs: Hints of this unique style of cake date back to Medieval times, however, the first known recipe of Kurtoskalacs originates from Transylvania in 1784. The cake has since become popular in Hungary and Hungarian-speaking regions in Romania such as Brasov, originally as a festival cake and now as a part of everyday consumption.
Where to try Kurtoskalacs in Brasov: Around Piața Sfatului, or Council Square, keep an eye out for an old-fashioned wooden wagon with a sign reading ‘Kurtoskalacs, Galuste cu Prune’. Here you can pick up a tasty Kurtoskalacs to take with you on your exploration of the city’s beautiful Old Town.
Personal note: Don’t be deceived by their affordable price tag – these cakes are enormous!
Churros | Chocolatería San Ginés
What are churros: Long sticks of choux pastry, poured into a vat of hot oil, deep-fried and served coated in sugar with a pot of thick hot chocolate for dipping.
Where to try churros in Madrid: Dating all the way back to 1894, Chocolateria San Gines is not only Madrid’s favourite chocolate shop but also it’s oldest. Hidden down a small passageway close to San Gines church, the iconic Chocolateria still has its authentic look, with green wood panels, a collage of mirrors and its old marble tables. Here you can grab a portion of 6 freshly made chocolate con churros for just €4 to either eat in or take away.
Personal note: Chocolateria San Gines is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Whilst during the day the chocolateria is usually full of tourists, many locals will pop by for some churros around 4am after a night out partying.
Address: Chocolateria San Gines, Pasadizo de San Ginés, 5, 28013 Madrid, Spain
For more Spanish treats, check out the post ‘Food You Don’t Want to Miss While in Spain‘.