The ancient Roman cookbook Apicius included many meatball-type recipes. Early recipes included in some of the earliest known Arabic cookbooks, generally concern seasoned lamb rolled into orange-sized balls, and glazed with egg yolk and sometimes saffron. This method was taken to the West and is referred to as gilding, or endoring. Many regional variations exist, notable among them the unusually large Azerbaijan (Iran) Tabriz kuftesi, having an average diameter of 20 cm, (8 in).
The Chinese recipe of "Four Joy Meatballs" (四喜丸子—Si Xi Wanzi) is derived from Lu Cuisine, also called Shandong Cuisine. It is originated from the native cooking styles of East China's Shandong province. Its history can date back to Qin Dynasty (221 BC to 207 BC).
Meatballs across various cultures
- Albanian fried meatballs (qofte të fërguara) include feta cheese.
- Armenian stewed meatballs/ meatball and vegetable stew (kufte rize) is classic dish often poured over rice and consumed.
- In Turkey, meatballs are called Köfte and are extremely popular, there are at least 50 different versions with a variety of shapes – not necessarily balls. Meatballs in Turkey are usually made with ground lamb or a mix of ground beef and lamb. Most popular ones are İnegöl Köfte, İzmir Köfte, Şiş Köfte, Kadınbudu Köfte and Akçaabat Köftesi.
- In Austria, fried meatballs are called Fleischlaibchen or Fleischlaberl.
- In Belgium, meatballs are called ballekes or bouletten in Flanders, and are usually made of a mixture of beef and pork with bread crumbs and sliced onions. Many other variations exist, including different kinds of meat and chopped vegetables.
- In Bulgaria, meatballs are called kyufte and are typically made from ground beef or pork, or a mix of the two. They can be shallow fried or grilled and often contain diced onions and soaked bread. They are a very popular dish.
- Danish meatballs are known as frikadeller and are typically fried, and they are usually made out of ground pork, veal, onions, eggs, salt and pepper; these are formed into balls and flattened somewhat, so they are pan ready.
- In Estonia, meatballs are called lihapallid and are similar to those of Finnish or Swedish cuisine.
- In Finnish cuisine, meatballs (lihapullat) are made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef and pork, or even with ground reindeer meat, mixed with bread crumbs soaked in milk and finely chopped onions. They are seasoned with white pepper and salt. Meatballs are traditionally served with gravy, boiled potatoes (or mashed potatoes), lingonberry jam, and sometimes pickled cucumber.
- In Alsace, France, meatballs are known as Fleischkiechele. They are made of beef, pork, onions, bacon, eggs and bread. They are served plain or with cream sauce.
- In Germany, meatballs are mostly known as Frikadelle, Fleischpflanzerl, Bulette or Klopse. A very famous variant of meatballs are Königsberger Klopse, which contain anchovy or salted herring, and are eaten with caper sauce.
- In Greece, fried meatballs are called keftédes (κεφτέδες) and usually include within the mix of bread, onions and mint leaf. Stewed meatballs are called yuvarlákia (γιουβαρλάκια: from the Turkish word yuvarlak, which means "round") and usually include small quantities of rice.
- In Hungary, as well as territories from neighbouring countries where Hungarian is spoken, a meatball is called fasirt or fasirozott ([ˈfɒʃirt] or [ˈfɒʃirozotː]) probably coming from Austrian German faschierte Laibchen. Also the májgombóc (liver dumpling) is popular in soups.
- In Italy, meatballs are generally eaten as a main course or in a soup. The main ingredients of an Italian meatball are: beef and/or pork and sometimes poultry, salt, black pepper, chopped garlic, olive oil, Romano cheese, eggs, bread crumbs and parsley, mixed and rolled by hand to a golf ball size. In the Abruzzo region of Italy, especially in the Province of Teramo, the meatballs are typically the size of marbles, and are called polpettine.
- In the Netherlands, meatballs are called gehaktbal, and are often served with boiled potatoes and vegetables. They are usually made out of mixed beef and pork minced meat, eggs, onion and breadcrumps. They are associated with Wednesday, as evidenced by the saying woensdag, gehaktdag (Wednesday, meatball day)
- In Norway, meatballs are called kjøttboller (lit. "meatbuns"). The influence from Swedish meatballs is such that they are even often referred to as "köttbullar" (which is the Swedish-language term, See the section for Sweden), though usually jokingly or because the meatballs were actually purchased in Sweden, which is common in areas close to the Swedish border. When Charles XII of Sweden was in exile in Istanbul in the early 18th century, he took the recipe back to Sweden. Meatballs come in a few different types, all typically small, and the international influence is great, perhaps the greatest from Sweden and Spain. They are usually eaten with potatoes or pasta, or both. Some common additions are various vegetables, ketchup, various spices, etc. "Kjøttkaker" (lit. "meatcakes") is a much larger and different related dish, and is perhaps more traditional and also common, which is much larger in size and made of different things in a different way (and the two should not be confused). The latter is often served with potatoes and peas (either could be mashed). Kjøttboller is typically fried, a process which takes only very few minutes because of their size, whereas kjøttkaker are typically part of a mix which includes a brown sauce and often potatoes.
- In Poland, they are called pulpety or klopsy (singular pulpet; klops), and pulpeciki ("little pulpety"), and are usually served cooked with a variety of sauces (such as tomato or a kind of gravy thickened with flour, as well as forest mushroom sauce) with potatoes, rice or all sorts of kasza. Pulpety or klopsy are usually made from seasoned ground meat with onion and mixed with eggs and either bread crumbs or wheat rolls soaked in milk or water. Fried pulpety are larger than typical cooked ones. They can be round or flat in shape. The latter, in many countries, would be considered a cross between a meatball and a hamburger. The fried variety is called mielony (short for kotlet mielony, literally "minced cutlet"), and its mass-produced version (as well as the one served in bars, etc.) is the subject of many jokes and urban legends about what is used to produce it.
- In Portugal, meatballs are called almôndegas. These are usually served with tomato sauce and pasta.
- In Romania, meatballs are called chiftele or pârjoale and are usually deep fried and made with pork or poultry, moistened mashed potatoes and spices. Chiftele are flat and round and contain more meat. A variant mixing rice inside the meatball is used for sour soup, making ciorbă de perişoare.
- In Spain and Hispanic America, meatballs are called albóndigas, derived from the Arabic al-bunduq (meaning hazelnut, or, by extension, a small round object). Albóndigas are thought to have originated as a Berber or Arab dish imported to Spain during the period of Muslim rule. Spanish albóndigas can be served as an appetizer or main course, often in a tomato sauce, while Mexican albóndigas are commonly served in a soup with a light broth and vegetables.
- In Sweden, köttbullar (meatballs) are made with ground beef or a mix of ground beef, pork and sometimes veal, sometimes including bread crumbs soaked in milk, finely chopped (fried) onions, some broth and often including cream. They are seasoned with white pepper or allspice and salt. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with gravy, boiled potatoes, lingonberry jam, and sometimes fresh pickled cucumber. Traditionally, they are small, around 1 inch (2.5 cm) in diameter.
- In the United Kingdom, faggots are a type of spicy pork meatball. A faggot is traditionally made from pig's heart, liver and fatty belly meat or bacon minced together, with herbs added for flavoring, and sometimes bread crumbs.
Most of meatballs recipes found in Americas are derived from European cuisine influences, notably Italian, Iberian (Portuguese-Spanish), and Nordic (Swedish-Finnish) cuisines.
- In Brazil, meatballs are called almôndegas, derived from Portuguese influences. These are usually served with tomato sauce and pasta.
- In the United States, meatballs are commonly derived from European cuisine influence. Usually it is served with spaghetti or pizza, as in spaghetti and meatballs and meatball pizza. Despite its seemingly Italian traits, one will not find a dish called spaghetti and meatballs in Italia. Spaghetti and meatballs is actually American, it is Italian-American cuisine, assimilated from Italian immigrants coming from southern Italy in the early 19th century. Over time, the dishes in both cultures have drifted apart in similarity. In the southern United States, venison or beef is also often mixed with spices and baked into large meatballs that can be served as an entree. Another variation, called "porcupine meatballs" are basic meatballs often with rice in them.
Middle East and South Asia
Kofta is a type of meatball or dumpling that is widely distributed in Middle Eastern, South Asian, and to some extent, Mediterranean and Balkan (Central and Eastern Europe) cuisines. The word kofta is derived from Persian kūfta: In Persian, کوفتن (kuftan) means "to beat" or "to grind" or meatball. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls or fingers of minced or ground meat – usually beef or lamb – mixed with spices and/or onions and other ingredients. The vegetarian variety are popular in India. They can be grilled, fried, steamed, poached, baked or marinated, and may be served with a rich spicy sauce.
- In Afghanistan, meatballs are used as a traditional dish with homemade soups, or are made with a tomato-based sauce that may include some plum seeds to increase tartness and is served with bread or rice which is called Kofta-Chelou. Nowadays meatballs are also grilled on top of pizza.
- In Iran, several types of meatballs are consumed. If they are cooked in a stew, they are called kufteh. If they are fried (typically small meatballs), they are called kal-e gonjeshki (literally "sparrow's head"). Both types are consumed with either bread or rice. Typically, herbs are added, and for kufteh, usually the meatball is filled with hard boiled eggs or dried fruits. There are several (at least 10) types; the most famous is "kufteh tabrizi", traditionally from Tabriz in northwestern Iran.
- In India, meatballs are called koftas. Indian meatballs are normally cooked in a spicy curry and sometimes with whole pre-boiled eggs. Sometimes the eggs are encased in a layer of the spicy kofta meat so that the final product resembles an Indian Scotch egg. These kofta dishes are very popular with Indian diaspora and are widely available from many Indian restaurants.
- In West Bengal region of Bangladesh and India and, koftas are made with prawns, fish, green bananas, cabbage, as well as minced goat meat.
East and Southeast Asia
- Chinese meatballs (wanzi) are typically made of pork and can be steamed, boiled or deep fried, sometimes with the addition of soy sauce. Large meatballs, called lion's heads, can range in size from about 5–10 cm (2.0–3.9 in) in diameter. Smaller varieties, called pork balls, are used in soups. A Cantonese variant, the steamed meatball, is made of beef and served as a dim sum dish. Fish and seafood can also used to create different flavors and textures, and vegetarian alternatives to meatballs are served during festivals. In northern China, meatballs made from minced meat and flour, sometimes with the addition of lotus root or water chestnut for texture, are deep-fried and served in a vinegar-based sweet and sour sauce, or in a light broth with chopped coriander.
- Indonesian meatballs are called bakso which are usually served in a bowl, served in broth soup, with noodles, rice vermicelli, bean curd (tofu), hard-boiled egg, siomay/steamed meat dumpling, and fried wonton. They have a consistent homogeneous texture. Bakso can be found in major Indonesian cities and towns, however the most popular are bakso Solo and bakso Malang (named after the city of origin). In Malang, bakso bakar (roasted bakso) is also popular. As most Indonesians are Muslim, generally it is made from beef or sometimes chicken.
- In Japanese cuisine, tsukune is a minced chicken meatballs in a skewer is also a popular variant of meatballs. The Japanese hamburger steak, hanbāgu, is typically made of ground beef, milk-soaked panko (bread crumbs) and minced, sauteed onions. They are typically eaten with a sauce made from ketchup and Worcestershire sauce. Chinese style meatballs are also popular.
- In the Philippines, meatballs are called almondigas or bola-bola, and are usually served in a misua noodle soup with toasted garlic, squash and pork cracklings. Almondigas are derived from Hispanic influence on Philippines cuisien, and ultimately derived from Moorish influence. Bola-bolas are also stewed or pan-fried until golden brown. Bola-bola is also used as a filling for siopao, the local variant of baozi.
- In Vietnam, meatballs (thịt viên hay mọc, bò viên, cá viên) can be used as an ingredient in phở and hủ tiếu. It is also common to cook meatballs in tomato sauce, and finely chopped spring onion and peppers are added before serving. In bún chả (a specialty Vietnamese rice noodle), meatballs are grilled to be chả and served with bún (rice noodles) and dipping sauce (based on fish sauce seasoned with rice vinegar, sugar, garlic, and chili). Xíu Mại is a pork meatball in a tomato sauce often served with a baguette.
- Frikandel, a Dutch and Belgian snack, similar in texture to meatballs, but more like a hot dog or sausage rather than ball shaped
- Esposito, Shaylyn (6 June 2013). "Is Spaghetti and Meatballs Italian?". Sithsonian.com. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
- Sally Grainger, Cooking Apicius: Roman Recipes for Today, Prospect Books, 2006, ISBN 1-903018-44-7, p. 17-18
- Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. kofta
- "Lu Cuisine". A bite of China. Retrieved 14 April 2015.
- Alan Davidson, ed., The Oxford Companion to Food, s.v. kofta
- Wikipedia in French
- Widenfelt, Sam Swedish Food, Gothenburg, Sweden Esselte 1956.
- "Köttbullar". Sweden.se. February 24, 2011.
- Herbst, Sharon Tyler Food Lover's Companion Hauppauge, New York: Barron's Educational Series, Inc. 1990.
- Alan S. Kaye, "Persian loanwords in English", English Today 20:20-24 (2004), doi:10.1017/S0266078404004043.