When you're in a new and unfamiliar place, one of the best tools for learning about the culture is food. But you don't want fancy stuff: that's for tourists and wealthy people with expensive ascots. You've gotta go to the streets, where pizza (or whatever that country's version of pizza is) is king. Or duke. Or whatever form of government represents said food's country of origin. So, in the interest of helping you better stuff your face, we found some of the best and most ubiquitous street snacks all across Europe. And only one of them is pizza.
Belgium: Frites Frites were pretty much invented in Belgium (although France's claim is more stuck in the collective American consciousness), and they remain the most ubiquitous street food there. Usually, they're served with any number of sauces (aioli, pepper sauce, chutney, curry ketchup, curry sauce, tartar sauce, or mayonnaise) and stuffed in a cone, because that's how most foods were meant to be served.
Czech Republic: Smažený sýr Sure, it may be spelled somewhat dauntingly, but there's nothing scary about this Czech street-food delicacy -- it's breaded-and-fried cheese (usually Edam). Sided with potatoes or salad, it makes a formidable meal, and, due to increasing influence from other nations' cuisines, smažený sýr can now often be found in sandwich form.
Denmark: Danish hot dogs Available all over the country from polsevogn (hot dog wagons), Danish hot dogs are a unique hybrid of American and European influences, in that they're made of Northern European-style sausage, but topped with distinctly American-style accoutrements, like crispy fried onions, mustard, pickles, and... remoulade? Ok, so maybe not entirely American. But still delicious!
England: Fish & chips There's nothing more simply or unapologetically English than fish & chips, with crispy haddock or cod fried golden, doused in vinegar, and wrapped up in a tabloid newspaper. Well, Winston Churchill's pretty unapologetically English. But he tastes like cigars.
Finland: Piirakka Piirakka are savory Finnish pastries (or, more accurately pasties) filled with a variety of things: lihapiirakka are filled with a mixture of minced meat and deep-fried, while karjalanpiirakka are filled with rice and, often, butter, and are hawked by street vendors all over Finland's Karelia region.
France: Crêpes French crêpes are so versatile that you could probably eat them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and many tourists in Paris do exactly that. Ranging from the savory crêpe complète with ham, cheese, and egg for a hefty meal to a crêpe with Nutella poured on top for... uh, another hefty meal, the perpetually available crêpe lends itself well to pretty much everything you throw at in/on it.
Germany: Currywurst Modern-day Europe is a veritable mélange of cultures and cuisines, and Germany's currywurst is a sterling example of that. You take German wurst (sausage), steam it, then fry it, and finally cover it with a curry ketchup, smoked paprika, and maybe some onions. Serve with fries or bread, and you've got a hybrid food as unstoppable as the German work ethic.
Greece: Gyros The traditional Greek gyro -- served with tzatziki, tomatoes, cucumber, onions, and sometimes potatoes on pita bread -- is based on the Turkish doner kebab, but is usually served with chicken or pork rather than lamb or veal. They're rolled up and dished out on pretty much every street in Athens and beyond (the ones in Thessaloniki are said to be especially enormous).
Hungary: Lángos Street food is just starting to catch on in Hungary, but lángos would be the obvious choice even if the roads there were still being paved. It's a deep-fried flatbread usually topped with cheese and/or sour cream, but also occasionally garlic, onions, smoked meat, butter, and vegetables.
Italy: Pizza America's favorite street food is also Italy's, which, as you've known since you were 1, is where it was actually invented! But in the Boot, you're not going to see stuffed crust, deep-dish, or Hawaiian-style pies: Neapolitan pizza is generally much simpler and has a minimum of toppings, usually just tomato, mozzarella, and basil.
Netherlands: Herring These ocean fish are so popular in the Netherlands that they have an entire fleet of vendors that serve them exclusively. "Haringkar", as they're called, shell out raw herring, pickled herring, smoked herring, or soused herring, often in a soft bun with chopped onions.
Poland: Zapiekanka Since pizza started to catch on around the world, many countries have seen the pizzafication of many of their favorite foods, and Poland is no exception -- zapiekanka is a kind of French-bread pizza done Polish-style, with mushrooms, onions, cheese, ham, and spices.
Romania: Covrigi Covrigi, Romanian baked goods with the composition and appearance of a glorious pretzel/bagel hybrid, are covered in salt, poppy seeds, or sesame seeds. You can see pretty much everyone munching on one walking down the streets of Bucharest, if you happen to be in town.
Scotland: Pakoras Yeah, yeah, sure -- pakoras aren't Scottish. But they might as well be now! These South Asian fritters -- which are composed of various veggies (but typically onion) dipped in batter & spices and deep-fried -- can be found in almost every chip shop across the country as an alternative to the usual suspects (fries and kebabs).
Spain: Bocadillos The epitome of portability in food is the sandwich, and the epitome of Spanishness in sandwiches is the bocadillo, a lengthwise-cut, crusty bread sammy that can tote around any filling your heart desires. Some varieties are ham, cheese, omelette, tuna, pork, calamari, chicken, chocolate, potato, eggplant, and spinach -- and those are just the more common ones. They're usually a bit smaller than the normal sandwich, so bocadillos are designed to be eaten strolling down the avenues of Madrid.
Pretty much the entire continent: Doner kebab Conspicuously absent on this list? The doner kebab, which has supplanted all the others to become the unofficial international street snack of Europe. The rich mixture of crispy, shaved lamb or veal with tomato, sumac, cucumber, and chili sauce on lavash is ubiquitous no matter where you go on the continent, due to an influx of Turkish peeps who brought with them one of the best (and most dominating) foods on the planet.
Adam Lapetina is a food/drink staff writer at Thrillist, and will always be a New York Halal Cart kinda guy. Read his musings on Twitter at @adamlapetina.