In major cities around the world, street food is one of those commodities that never really goes out of style. There’s something universal and irresistible about a warm plate of carbs and meat after a night on the town or a full day of walking the city—preferably handheld and bought for under $10 from a sidewalk vendor with a long line of hungry fans.
Variations of these late-night delicacies exist from New York’s bustling avenues, to the canals of Amsterdam, to Rome’s cobblestone piazzas. In many ways, iconic street eats are an integral part of visiting a new city. Beyond the appealingly low price tag, these dishes are highly valued for the glimpse they offer into a city’s history, culture, and authentic local flavor.
For cheap, portable eats in Paris, look no further than your local crêperie. Street stands and holes-in-the-wall abound in just about every neighborhood, and generally offer both sweet and savory crêpes. Classic sweet-tooth options include Nutella and banana, or sugar, lemon, and cinnamon; a savory favorite is ham and cheese (traditionally emmental). For a little extra something, ask them to throw an egg on there, too. You won’t regret it.
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Countless cultures have influenced New York street food, but the 24-hour diner—while not technically a “street food”—is an enduring classic for cheap and filling late-night grub. Old school spots like the Skylight Diner in Hell’s Kitchen, Scotty’s Diner in Murray Hill, and Kellogg’s Diner in Williamsburg serve the standards (burgers, breakfast, etc.) 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Another perennial favorite is Veselka: a no-frills, 24-hour Ukrainian restaurant (conveniently located near the bustling nightlife of the East Village) with some of the best pierogis around. And if all else fails, round a few corners until you stumble across a halal cart or dollar pizza joint—it might not be the highest rated slice in town, but your taste buds won’t care.
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Unsurprisingly, pizza to-go is a decidedly different affair in Rome—though it’s still a popular late-night option. To satisfy after-dark cravings, Romans grab their pizza al taglio (“by the cut”): baked in rectangular batches, sliced into squares, and sold by the kilogram for an easy, tasty, grab-and-go meal. The option to purchase by weight gives you the glorious ability to sample more than one flavor. Go for a classic margherita or pizza bianca (focaccia with a generous dose of olive oil and sea salt), then throw in a more adventurous slice—maybe prosciutto with eggplant and cheese, or (a personal favorite) thinly sliced potatoes with rosemary. Delizioso.
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Thick, crispy, and piping hot: in Amsterdam, cheap street food = fries. You’ll find these delicious bundles of starchy perfection all over the city. Locals usually dip theirs in either plain or flavored mayonnaise (house-made is always best), but most vendors have a ton of interesting dipping options, from curry and ketchup to applesauce. They’re typically served in paper cones, making them especially easy to carry around—and, added bonus, they’ll keep your hands warm during the colder months. Grab a beer to wash it all down, and you’ll be warmed right up.
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The currywurst: a strange and polarizing mashup that was born out of post-war Berlin, this dish spread from its origins as a working-class street food to become one of the city’s most defining culinary markers. Sausage served with ketchup and a healthy sprinkle of curry power may raise some eyebrows at first, but the currywurst is ubiquitous and well-loved. You’ll find slight variations in presentation depending on what side of the city you’re on and which vendor you choose, but most will come with a side of fries and—most importantly—a low price tag.
Another classic option is the döner kebab, which is arguably the more popular street food in Berlin. Originally a Turkish sandwich of thinly sliced rotisserie meat and salad wrapped in pita or flatbread, variations of the kebab exist throughout Europe, with Berlin generally considered the European version’s “home base.” You can typically choose between lamb, chicken, and beef, though vegetarian options are steadily on the rise. Be sure to order yours piled high with veggies and doused in hot sauce.
When your stomach starts to growl in Barcelona (and perhaps you’ve had your fill of tapas for the day), you’re going to want to get your hands on some churros con chocolate. This popular pairing can be found all over the city, and will satisfy a sweet tooth like nothing else. The European chocolate is more like a hot chocolate/pudding hybrid: thick, intensely chocolatey, and perfect for dipping crispy, fried-to-perfection churros into. Plenty of cafés will have the mouthwatering duo on their menu, but if you’re really on the go, check out Comaxurros: alongside a brick-and-mortar spot, the popular churrería has a food truck that makes its way around the city.
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When it comes to street food in London, you’re in luck: the cheap-eats and food trucks movements are huge here, so the choices in this melting pot run the gamut from bagels and banh mi to tacos and fried chicken. At the risk of a never-ending list, here are a few beloved food truck favorites: Mother Clucker for fried chicken, Bao for juicy pork buns, Rōla Wala for “twisted Indian street food,” and You Doughnut for adorable handmade donut and ice cream sundaes (yes, you read that correctly).
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