What Meatballs Are Like Around the World (Slideshow)
January 30, 2014
Swedish meatballs, Mexican meatballs, Turkish meatballs... How do you like your meatballs?
The Italian meatball is one of the world’s most popular, and for good reason: It makes up one half of spaghetti and meatballs, quite possibly the world’s most notable dish. Seasoned with olive oil, oregano, parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper, you may find some studded with garlic and onion, and others with a dash of parsley, red wine, and sometimes even balsamic vinegar. They’re rarely served with pasta in Italy, but they go with it very well.
Typically rolled small and pan-seared in a copious amount of butter, these meatballs often get a bad rap because of their association with a certain gigantic furniture store (Ikea) and microwave dinners. That said, there’s nothing like biting into a juicy Swedish meatball covered in creamy gravy made with beef or chicken stock and dill. Nutmeg, ginger, and clove can be mixed into the meat to give it its signature Swedish flavor (although they’re not used in every recipe), and mashed potatoes and lingonberry jam are ideal accompaniments.
Infused with Sriracha and pungent nuoc mam, aka fish sauce, Vietnamese meatballs are a far cry from what nonna whipped up back in Sicily. Instead of finding them atop pasta, you’ll find these meatballs in the sandwich called bánh mi, crushed between two halves of baguette, garnished with spicy mayo, pickled daikon radish and carrot, fresh cilantro, and chiles.
Did you know that people eat lion’s heads in China? It’s true. But not in the way you’re thinking. Lion’s head is the name of a Chinese meatball that’s first browned in a pan and then finished by being boiled in broth. Scallion whites, ginger, Shaoxing wine, and soy sauce add flavor, while water chestnuts provide crunch. The meatballs can be served on a bed of cellophane noodles and napa cabbage, or simply with some more soy sauce by themselves.
Mexican meatballs are known as albóndigas and are often found in a garlicky, tomato-based soup with rice, potatoes, and other vegetables. The albóndigas themselves typically have rice mixed into them, along with onion, garlic or garlic powder, and black pepper, so their texture is more interesting than the average meatball.
In the US, people love convenience, so it’s fitting that this uniquely American recipe for sweet and sour meatballs requires the use of only three ingredients, one of which is frozen meatballs. The sauce couldn’t be easier. Mix half a jar of grape jelly with half a jar of chili sauce (or use ketchup and a dash of hot sauce or cayenne pepper to be extra American) and you’ve got yourself dinner.
Like its neighbor Greece, Albania uses a lot of lamb in its cuisine. Its version of meatballs, called qofte, is made with either lamb or beef (sometimes both), fresh mint, onion, garlic, dried cinnamon, oregano, bread crumbs, and feta cheese for added salt and creaminess. Dredging them with flour before frying ensures a golden-brown exterior.
It figures that in Amsterdam there’d be a super-munchie such as bitterballen. Ground pork is cooked and mixed with cream sauce before it gets seasoned, shaped, breaded and then deep fried to a crispy outside and super-juicy center. It may sound like a lot of work, but serious snackers know that flavor this extraordinary is worth the effort.
In Uruguay, you’ll find elements of many other countries’ meatballs, from the use of parmesan and a tomato-onion infusion (à la Italy), to the addition of nutmeg (as in Sweden and the Netherlands). Raisins add intrigue to the veal-based recipe, which is finished with a peppery broth of beef stock, red wine, oregano, onion, and thyme.
While the cuisine in India varies tremendously from region to region, it is commonly linked by the use of aromatic spices and curries. As such, typical Indian meatballs employ the liberal use of garlic, ginger, onion, various chiles, and a fragrant, earthy curry powder known as garam masala. Fresh cilantro brightens them up, resulting in a flavor profile that hits virtually every note to ensure happy palates abound.
Lamb and beef come together with grated onion, stale bread crumbs, and loads of fresh parsley to create mouthwatering Turkish meatballs. Known as kofte, these meatballs are pan-fried and served with a refreshing salad of shredded carrots, red cabbage, and sliced cucumber to cut through their richness.