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What Meatballs Are Like Around the World

What Meatballs Are Like Around the World

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If you polled a large group of international eaters on what makes the perfect meatball, chances are you’d get more impassioned answers than you ever imagined. Whatever meatball criteria you held sacred before posing this query will undoubtedly be called into question, as you’ll have hordes of enthusiasts riled up trying to convince you that their take on the savory morsels deserves permanent placement at the pinnacle of mythical Meatball Mountain.

What Meatballs Are Like Around the World (Slideshow)

Some prefer meatballs slathered in thick, zesty tomato sauce spiked with fresh oregano and basil. Others want them coated in rich, brown gravy, studded with cracked black peppercorns and a hint of red wine. Purists are vehement about using only one kind of meat in a recipe, while another camp of connoisseurs insists that a carefully measured blend of beef, pork, and veal is the only way meatballs were truly intended to be made.

There’s also the argument about whether baking, pan-frying, or, in less common instances, steaming or boiling results in the best finished product, as well as whether or not you should add fillers, such as bread crumbs and or eggs to the mix to achieve your desired texture.

Instead of getting in a meatball frenzy on which meatballs are best, here’s to hoping the world’s meatball madness can be used to bring cultures together instead of driving them apart. We believe that all meatballs deserve equal billing as meaty masterpieces, so we’ve compiled a list of some of the different approaches for rolling up these delectable spheres across the globe.

You’ll find fish sauce-and-Sriracha-soaked specimens from Vietnam; pan-seared, nutmeg-spiced pork varieties from Scandinavia; and classic Italian ones laden with garlic, parmesan and herbs. You might even discover a few meatball types you’ve never encountered, such as the minty qofte from Albania, deep-fried bitterballen from Amsterdam, and spongy Lion’s Head from China.

There really is no best or perfect meatball, let’s be real — there’s just an innumerable amount of methods for achieving the same awesome idea. Now, let’s get to the meatballs.

Albondigas (or albondiguillas) is the name for Spanish meatballs. And while you may not find them gracing a dinner table, they are still commonly found around Spain, just a little earlier.

In Spain, it is common to eat dinner extremely late: like 10pm or later. So, to tide them over until meal time, it is common to go out with friends for after work snacks and drinks, called tapas.

Tapas are small portions that are meant to be shared as something to nibble on while you&rsquore catching up and chatting about the day.

Albondigas, meatballs in tomato sauce, are a perfect one-bite nibble that you will find in many taps bars.

How Faggots Are Made

Traditionally, faggots are made from offal, usually pork, and from the bits of the animal that are generally discarded (the heart and the liver), making faggots a cheap and nutritious dish. The meats are then mixed with a selection of spices and herbs—most commonly mace, allspice, sage, and parsley—and sometimes breadcrumbs (this depends on which part of Britain they come from) and onion. The meat mixture is then rolled into large balls and wrapped in caul fat (the lacy, transparent membrane found in a pig's stomach) to hold them together. It is this use of caul fat which makes the faggot unique.

The traditional way to serve faggots is with peas, commonly mushy peas, often accompanied by creamy mashed potatoes and a good dollop of onion gravy. Classic British faggots are easy to make, as the method is similar to meatballs—but faggots need a longer cooking time, simply because of the offal. You can also wrap the ball of meat in bacon instead of caul fat, or use beef instead of pork.

In Search of the Perfect Meatball

I've long felt that if I could make a great meatball, I would be set for life. There's nothing fancy about it, but that's the point. A meatball is about as unassuming as food can get, but when done well, it packs more flavor and more soul per square inch than anything that humble has a right to. People love meatballs. It's a fact of life. If you've got a great meatball in your repertoire, you have the means to make most of the world happy. It took me nearly five years of searching to find my meatball recipe, and in retrospect, that seems like a small price to pay.

My obsession with meatballs—Italian-style, mostly, though I'll take them any way—began about seven years ago, shortly after I ended an almost decade-long stint as a vegetarian. Meat still felt odd and new, and I was timid about it, but I went to an Italian restaurant with a girlfriend and, egged on by a monster of a gin and tonic, wound up ordering spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. The restaurant was all right, and the meatballs weren't special, not in any way that I can remember now, but that night, they tasted almost supernaturally good: hearty, saucy, spiked with Parmesan. And though I knew there were probably better meatballs to be had, the mere fact that they existed at all, that a sphere of seasoned meat could make me so thoroughly ecstatic, was enough to start me wondering how I could get my hands on more, and how they could be made even better.

A person who wants to make meatballs has no shortage of options. There are recipes everywhere. That's very nice, but it doesn't mean that finding a great meatball is easy. Even in the most basic meatball recipe, the number of variables is staggering. Take the meat, for instance: Some recipes call for beef, and others call for pork. Some call for a mixture of beef and pork. Others call for beef, pork, and veal. It's already complicated, and we haven't even gotten around to talking about cheeses, breadcrumbs, herbs, possible frills like ground prosciutto and Aleppo pepper, or whether the meatballs should be cooked in the sauce or separately. I felt stuck before Iɽ even started.

Being stuck was not an option, and so I forced myself to start cooking. Every time I came across a meatball recipe, I tried it, and every time I got a chance, I ordered them in restaurants. But of all the meatballs I tried, none were totally right. None could nail both taste and texture. It may be hard to believe, but it's entirely possible to make a meatball that tastes like heaven but chews like a foam mattress. It is also possible to make a meatball that's moist, delicate, even silky, but tastes like lightly seasoned air. I never found one that got it all right until I ordered the fettuccine and meatballs at Cafe Lago, in Seattle.

I'm a big fan of Cafe Lago. I like it so much that I befriended its owners, Carla Leonardi and Jordi Viladas, and wrote about their iconic pomodori al forno in this column a couple of years ago. Jordi learned to make meatballs from his mother, Angeline, and uses a technique from his aunt Polly Schimizzi. Polly mastered meatballs under the guidance of her Calabrian mother. A heritage like that is no joke. When you bite into one of their meatballs, the first thing you notice is that it melts almost instantly. It's impossibly tender, a texture that verges on downy, and then you start chewing, and it opens right up, rich and bright at the same time, the dark sweetness of the meat punched up with Parmesan and fresh parsley.

Soft Italian Meatballs

Want to know the secret to making soft, delicious meatballs? Try this recipe for Italian-style meatballs that turns out perfect every time.

Combine chopped onion, garlic, parsley and bread crumbs in a food processor and mix 30 seconds. Break the egg into a 3 quart bowl and mix well using a wire whisk. Add water, olive oil, salt, pepper, and nutmeg to the egg and whisk until well whisked. Add the bread crumb mixture, combining with a spatula. Add the ground meat and mix thoroughly until ingredients are well distributed and the mixture is binding together tightly.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Using a medium sized ice cream scoop, scoop out a portion onto a lightly oiled jelly roll pan. Form each meatball by rolling in the palm of your hand until they feel tight and solid. (The finished meatballs should be about the size of a golf ball.)

Pour 1/4 cup water into the pan and place in the oven. Time 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and loosen with a spatula. Return to the oven an additional 10 minutes, or until cooked through. Drain. Heat the tomato sauce in a large skillet. Add the meatballs and simmer 2 minutes. Serve over pasta or rice.

Ikea shares recipe for Swedish meatballs to make during quarantine

Being quarantined doesn’t have to mean giving up your favorite foods.

Ikea shared a recipe for Swedish meatballs and cream sauce so we can all make the popular dish from home during the coronavirus pandemic.

The retailer published the recipe on its U.K. Twitter account Monday, sharing the ingredients and steps in an Ikea diagram reminiscent of its furniture assembly instructions.

Missing your IKEA meatball fix? We’ve created a recipe for you to recreate this delicious dish in the comfort of your own home #IKEAmeatballs

— IKEA UK (@IKEAUK) April 20, 2020

“Missing your IKEA meatball fix? We’ve created a recipe for you to re-create this delicious dish in the comfort of your own home,” the company wrote along with the diagram.

Although this recipe isn’t the exact version of the one used in Ikea stores around the world, it’s still the perfect alternative for those missing the food from the furniture store.

“Our ‘real’ meatballs and Swedish cream sauce recipe remains a closely guarded secret, known only to a select few. However, in good conscience we couldn’t deprive the nation from missing out on their meatball fix, so we’ve made an almost-as-delicious alternative that can be easily made at home! We hope that it fills a gap until we can meet again. Until then, stay home and stay safe,” Lorena Lourido, country food manager at Ikea U.K. and Ireland, said in a statement to TODAY Food.

Ikea meatballs have been around since 1985 and were developed with the help of the store’s founder, Ingvar Kamprad, who was “highly involved in creating the taste and the texture of this classic dish,” an Ikea spokesperson told TODAY Food.

“The IKEA meatballs, served in over 430 Ikea stores globally, are a true Ikea icon, just as known as the BILLY bookshelf or the KLIPPAN sofa and every year more than one billion meatballs are served at IKEA,” the spokesperson said.

The meatballs are usually served hot in the store’s café or available to purchase frozen in the Swedish Food Market.

Reader Interactions


November 07, 2019 at 7:01 pm

Small plates are my favorite way to eat especially at a dinner party. It is a great way to have a bunch of different types of food in one night. I loved reading your history of how tapas started.

November 07, 2019 at 5:37 pm

Ok, I love the colors and flavors in these recipes! I hope my invite to this dinner party is in the mail!

November 07, 2019 at 5:11 pm

Oooh so many great Spanish recipes. I don't know where to start!

November 07, 2019 at 4:35 pm

What a delicious and colorful spread! Sometimes I just like making a few different tapas and having that for dinner with wine. It's a fun way to keep parties simple ^_^

November 07, 2019 at 4:30 pm

I love tapas so much, I just want to try all of these! Those paprika skewers look divine!

Bintu | Recipes From A Pantry

November 03, 2019 at 2:00 pm

I love tapas but don't often make my favourites at home. Will certainly be giving the recipes a try now though.

November 03, 2019 at 12:41 pm

This is such an excellent idea for the holidays! I love Tapas, and this would be perfect for the multiple holiday gatherings we host. SO glad I found this on Pinterest today.

November 03, 2019 at 12:30 pm

Love the fact that I can create my most fave tapas - right at home! Thank you. Regards shahzadi

November 03, 2019 at 10:40 am

These are just what I need for hosting a party. Not too heavy perfect for entertaining!

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BBQ Comfort Meatballs

Combine all meatball ingredients. Roll into medium-small balls and place on a cookie sheet. Place sheet in freezer for five minutes.

After 5 minutes, remove meatballs from freezer and immediately dredge in unseasoned flour.

Brown meatballs in canola oil until just brown. Place into a baking dish.

Combine all sauce ingredients. Pour over meatballs and bake at 350 degrees for 45 minutes. Serve with egg noodles, mashed potatoes, or crusty French bread.

Foodies, please cover your eyes! Shield yourself from the deadly rays of prosaic 1960&rsquos cuisine!

We&rsquore about to dive into the world of comfort food.

Can cuisine be &ldquoprosaic&rdquo? I&rsquoll have to ponder that today.

All I know is this. I had a baby. Then I had another baby. Then I had a third baby, a boy. After my third baby, a boy, was born, I found myself back on the ranch with two young daughters and yet another suckling infant, and I was starving all the time. If I wasn&rsquot eating Cinnamon Toast Crunch by the truckload, I was gnawing on a divine Mexican chicken casserole my BFF Hyacinth brought me or a box of Krispy Kreme doughuts my father-in-law picked up the city.

That was back in Krispy Kreme&rsquos glory days.

It all helped my milk production. But still, I was starving.

And then, one dark and stormy night, my good friend Beth (a ranching neighbor of ours) and her mother Diane (also a longtime rancher) knocked on my door and brought me&hellipdinner.

They brought me meatballs.

I won&rsquot wax rhapsodic about how much these meatballs changed my life. They were so simple, so savory, so comforting and warm and delicious&hellipI almost cried. Come to think of it, I think I did cry. I always thought it was my hormones regulating to normal levels. But maybe it was totally meatball-induced.

These meatballs are light, tender, and bursting with juice. Recipe

What is the perfect meatball? For me, it's a plump, juicy ball of highly seasoned meat that's so tender a spoon can pass right through it with almost no resistance. Here's how I make that a reality.

Why this recipe works:

  • A panade made from buttermilk-soaked fresh bread adds tons of moisture and flavor.
  • Minced pancetta and gelled stock (optional) guarantee extremely juicy meatballs.
  • Plenty of onion, garlic, and other flavors deliver a rich, satisfying meatball.

Note: This recipe makes about 10 handball-sized meatballs you can make them smaller or larger, as you prefer, but cooking times will change. The chicken stock and gelatin help make meatballs that are insanely juicy and tender, but these meatballs will still be incredibly moist even without them. When measuring salt by volume, it is important to use the type of salt specified in the recipe other salts—such as table salt and fine sea salt—will taste too salty (if you use a different salt, please adjust accordingly). If measured by weight, the saltiness will be consistent regardless of the type of salt used. The pancetta in this recipe adds juiciness and moisture, so the fattier the better if you use pancetta that is too lean (more than 50% muscle), you won't get the same benefit. Pancetta is easiest to mince when nearly frozen.