Ikea is synonymous with Swedish meatballs. The worldwide home furnishings (etc.) chain sells more than one billion of them every year — which adds up to almost 2.8 million a day. Meatballs — not just the classic beef-and-pork variety, but also now versions made with chicken or vegetables — are by far the biggest seller in Ikea's food departments. Some 56 million are also served annually in the U.S. in store restaurants alone. In 2016, Ikea even rolled out a meatball food truck, which set up shop in Chicago and New York for the summer.
A far different approach to Swedish meatballs is that taken by 36-year-old chef–restaurateur Johan Tingvall, whose homey establishment is Kaptensgården ("Captain's Farm") in Gammelstad Church Town, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the northern shores of the Bay of Bothnia in Swedish Lapland.
Born nearby in the village of Råneå, Tingvall took his first kitchen job at the age of 14, then went to restaurant school in nearby Luleå before working at a series of restaurants in Stockholm. Returning to his home region, he bought Kaptensgården in 2004.
Tingvall's menu offers reindeer, moose, arctic char, "and a lot more that we can find in the region of Swedish Lapland," says Tingvall. And meatballs, for which he became famous. He even started teaching meatball classes, which run once or twice a week each winter, because there was a big demand for them and also because he likes to cook with his customers. "To make food together is the best way to get to know our guests," he says "and hopefully we help them feel that they know a little more about Swedish Lapland afterwards — and of course about how to make meatballs."
Swedes love meatballs, he believes, because "They're easy to make and taste good, and you can make them in your own style — but they will always remind you of your grandmother." Of course, he says, "They're very popular with people who are not from Sweden, too."
And does Tingvall like Ikea's meatballs? He has never tried them, he admits. "I don't know," he offers, "but I guess that if you are in another country, they are better than no meatballs at all."
Click here for a good Swedish meatball recipe that is neither Ikea's nor Tingvall's.