The name Bakso originated from bak-so (肉酥, Pe̍h-ōe-jī: bah-so·), the Hokkien pronunciation for "shredded meat" (Rousong). This suggests that bakso has Indonesian Chinese cuisine origin. Today most of the bakso vendors are Javanese from Wonogiri (a town near Solo) and Malang. Bakso Solo and Bakso Malang are the most popular variant; the name comes from the city it comes from, Solo in Central Java and Malang in East Java. In Malang, Bakso Bakar (roasted bakso) is also popular. As most Indonesians are Muslim, generally Bakso is made from beef or is mixed with chicken.
Similar meatball dishes can be found in other Southeast Asian cuisines, such as those in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, as well as Chinese-style meatballs. The dish also similar with Vietnamese noodle soup with meatballs, Phở Bò Viên. In Vietnam, Phở means noodle soup while Bò Viên is meatballs. Phở Bò Viên is one of version of Pho dish in Vietnam. It has been considered as the national dish of Vietnam. Nevertheless, Indonesia has developed numbers bakso variants, usually differs by its shape and size, ingredients or fillings.
Bakso urat: bakso filled with tendons and coarse meat
Bakso ayam: chicken bakso
Bakso bola tenis or bakso telur: tennis ball sized bakso with boiled chicken egg wrapped inside
In Indonesia, borax is often added into beef surimi mixture in order to preserve the produced bakso, also to made bakso more chewy (from borax induced myosin cross-linking) with less usage of meat. As a result, bakso is often listed by Indonesian Food and Drug Administration as an unhealthy foodstuff. The country's Directorate of Consumer Protection warns of the risk of liver cancer caused by high consumption over a period of 5–10 years. Therefore, frozen bakso being sold at supermarkets and also traditional markets in Indonesia are required to be borax free.