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Meatballs are a popular dish all around the world. There isn’t a region where meatballs aren’t consumed in some form. They can be made from beef, chicken, mutton, pork, fish, etc. There are countless types of meatballs in the world. From Italian-American meatballs all the way to Bakso in Indonesia, meatballs are loved and adored everywhere.
Some of the most common meatball types are Italian-American meatballs, Spanish or Mexican meatballs, Swedish meatballs, Middle Eastern kufteh, South Asian fish koftas, Lions Head in China, Bakso in Indonesia, etc.
The best part about meatballs is that you can eat them plain or as a side dish. One of the main reasons for its popularity is its simplicity and diversity. You can make your own meatball recipe with some tweaks and twists. If you love them, getting familiar with all these meatball types will make you fall in love even more.
Different Varieties Of Meatballs Around the World
Meatballs are a diverse dish. It’s so full of varieties that you can find it in every corner of the world, with a slight tweak.
This is the reason I have decided to discuss various types of meatballs according to different regions of the world because each of them has plenty. So, let’s go:
Meatball varieties found in the Americas come from European cuisine, mostly Italian. That’s why it’s often called “Italian-American meatballs,” because the United States has no distinct meatball dish.
Americans had their first taste of meatballs, most probably during the Italian migration to the US between the late 18th century and early 19th century. They are kind of a hybrid of Italian, Spanish, and Swedish meatball dishes. Let’s have a look at some common types of meatballs in that region:
Italian-American meatball: In the United States, the meatball is usually eaten with spaghetti or pizza. Usually, ground beef is mixed with ground pork and some spice for added flavor. Then it is cooked in a sauce and served as toppings on pasta or pizza.
For meatball pizza, the meatballs can be sliced to make them smaller and more palatable. They can be cut in half or minced and spread over the pizza.
Albondigas (Mexico): Albondigas are traditional Mexican meatballs. It is equally popular in Portugal and Spain. They make it from pork, beef, or veal; or maybe a combination. Mashed potatoes and rice can also be included. Then they are pan-fried and simmered in a sauce.
The semi-cooked meatballs are then simmered in a tomato and beef-based broth. Then the soup is mixed with varieties of vegetables and garnished with cilantro, white rice, avocado, etc.
Ragout de Boulettes (Canada): People in Quebec, Canada, consume meatballs in the form of stew. They call it “ragout de boulettes,” or “meatball stew.” The meatballs are made with minced pork meat, onions, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, etc.
Then they are slowly simmered in a thick gravy. The gravy is thickened by adding toasted flour. The simmered meatballs are served with boiled or mashed potatoes and pickled beets.
The above are the main types of meatballs you would find in the Americas. Besides these, there are plenty more worth mentioning. In Brazil, meatballs are called Almondegas. Brazilians eat it with pasta and tomato sauce.
Puerto Rican albondigas are largely influenced by Italian cuisine. People there love spice and season their meatballs with olives, capers, cheese, breadcrumbs, eggs, carrots, mint, parsley, almonds, coffee, and many more.
Europe is the Mecca of different meatball types. This is mainly because Europe is just north of Persia, which is believed to be the birthplace of meatballs. Let’s take a look at some European meatball varieties:
Kottbullar (Sweden): Kottbullar, or meat bun when translated into English, is a popular variety of meatballs in Sweden. The Swedish make meatballs from a mix of ground beef, pork, and sometimes venison. They mix the meat with various herbs and spices, such as chopped onion, white paper, salt, breadcrumbs, Jamaican pepper, etc., and more!
Then the meatballs are cooked until brown on a skillet, then simmered in a mixture of beef broth, heavy cream, butter, flour, Worcestershire sauce, mustard, etc. Finally, they are topped with salt and pepper and served with potatoes, lingonberry jam, pickled cucumber, etc.
Bitterballen (Netherland): Originating from the Netherlands, Bitterballen are a pretty popular type of meatball across Europe. Ground meat is mixed with spices, then dipped in breadcrumbs and deep-fried until golden brown. They are served as a savory snack with mustard and are popular with beer.
Faggots (Great Britain): Faggot is a northern British term meaning “uncased sausage,” which is a type of meatball made specifically from pork. It originated in Britain; some sources say Wales. It is made from a pig’s heart, liver, fatty meat from the belly, etc. All of these are mixed with herbs and spices.
The meatballs are baked in a buttery, thick onion gravy. Faggots are mostly served with potatoes, onion gravy, and beans.
Keftedes (Greece): Greeks serve meatballs as an appetizer rather than the main dish. Beef or lamb is usually the meat of choice. The meat is mixed with bread, onion, mint, and parsley and then fried or grilled.
To make it more of a main dish, you can pair it with pita bread, tzatziki sauce, tomatoes, and lettuce. There is also a stew variety of meatballs which they call Yuvarlakia. This dish includes a small quantity of rice.
Polpette (Italy): Although meatball spaghetti is a popular dish, it’s only a thing in America. Italians eat meatballs and spaghetti separately. Meatballs are often part of the main course along with other meat and fish dishes.
The main ingredients of Italian meatballs include beef, pork, and poultry mixed with salt, pepper, garlic, olive oil, cheese, egg, breadcrumbs, parsley, etc. The mix is shaped like a ball, fried in oil, and then simmered in tomato sauce. Italian meatballs smaller than regular size are known as polpettine. It is popular in Teramo province.
Frikadeller (Denmark): Danish meatballs are called Frikadeller. They are light and fluffy in texture. The meat is usually ground pork or veal mixed with salt, paper, egg, and onion. Frikadeller is also highly popular in Belgium, Austria, and Germany.
Aside from these, almost every country in Europe has its own type of meatball. Albanians make fried meatballs using feta cheese. Belgian people make meatballs from a mixture of pork, beef, breadcrumbs, onions, etc. They call it “ballekes” or “bouletten.”
In Bosnia and Serbia, meatballs are called cufte, which is pronounced like kofte in Turkish. They are made from beef and served with potatoes. Bulgarian meatballs are called kyufte and are made from ground pork or beef. Then it is shallow fried or grilled and contains chopped onion and soaked bread.
Croatian meatballs are made from pork or beef and served with mashed potatoes, rice, and tomato sauce.
3. Middle East and South Asia
Persia, or Iran, is believed to be the birthplace of meatballs. So, it only makes sense that various meatball types are abundant there and also in South Asia due to their proximity to the region. Here are some popular meatball types in the Middle East and South Asia:
Kufteh (Iran): Different types of meatballs are available in Iran. Iranians cook meatballs either in a stew or broth, or sometimes they fry them. Stew meatballs are called kufteh, and fried meatballs are called Kale Gonjeshki. However, they do not consume either type as the main course. They are part of the main dish that is either with bread or rice.
Herbs and spices are added for taste and flavor. In the kufteh variation, there is a filling of either egg or dried fruit inside the meatball. Depending on fruit type, there are a lot of different kinds of kufteh available in Iran, particularly in the Tabriz region.
Ktzitzot (Israel): Meatballs in Hebrew are called “ktzitzot.” The exact recipe of Israeli meatballs varies, but it usually includes ground beef, turkey, or chicken. Rather than making completely spherical balls, they make the balls slightly flat.
The meatballs are then pan-fried and cooked in tomato sauce or broth of some kind. As there are different groups of Jews, there are many different variations of meatballs across the country.
Kofta (India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh): In Pakistan, India, West Bengal, and Bangladesh, meatballs are simply called kofta. Indians cook meatballs in a spicy masala sauce or with boiled eggs. A popular cuisine in Pakistan, where meatballs are cooked in a gravy called “Chorba”. In India, sometimes parts of an egg are put inside a meatball instead of fully using meat.
In Bangladesh, meatballs are made from fish, as the country is sliced by countless rivers. Chitol fish meatballs are a prime cuisine in Bangladesh. The meatballs are fried and served with rice. Prawns are also used to make meatballs together with various types of vegetables such as cabbage, green bananas, etc.
Afghanistan, Armenia, Syria, etc., are also known for their exquisite meatball variations. Afghan meatballs are simple and served with soup, bread, or rice. In Syria, meatballs take various twists. They are grilled on charcoal, cooked in a potato stew, etc. Grilled meatballs are served with grilled eggplant.
4. East Asia
China and Japan are known for their various soup recipes. And what goes better with soups than meatballs? China, Japan, and all the East Asian countries are well known for their distinct types of meatballs. Let’s get right into it:
Lion’s Head (China): Being the 2nd largest country in the world, China has lots of different types of meatballs. The meat is mostly pork which is boiled, steamed, or fried. Sometimes soy sauce is added. Lions Head is a popular type of meatball in China. It is made from pork and served with cooked cabbage or noodles.
Lion’s Head is big in size, usually 5-10 cm in diameter. It is called a lion’s head because the meatball resembles a lion’s mane.
Pork ball (China): The same meatball that I just discussed above, Lion’s Head, has a miniature version. Its name is “pork ball” because the recipe is the same as meatballs made from pork. Pork balls are mainly used in soups. A steamed variety of meatballs are made from beef and served as a part of the Dim Sum dish.
Also, many types of fish and seafood are used to make meatballs in China. There is also a vegetarian version of meatballs. In north China, meat, flour, water chestnut, or lotus root go into making meatballs.
Tsukune (Japan): Tsukune is a very popular meatball variety in Japan. It is made from minced chicken. Tsukune is either put inside a dumpling or skewered like a kebab. The meatball is fried or baked then served with a special Japanese sauce.
A fish meatball called Tsumire is also popular in Japan. People in Japan eat it with soups, stews, etc.
5. Southeast Asia
Southeast Asian cuisine is popular worldwide. And let me tell you, their meatballs are equally delicious. Following are some popular meatball types in Southeast Asia:
Bakso (Indonesia): Indonesian meatball, Bakso, is an immensely popular form of meatball all over Indonesia. It is also highly popular as street food. Due to being a Muslim country, pork is a no-no in Indonesia. Meatballs are usually made from beef or chicken. Meat, cornflour, garlic, coriander, salt, pepper, and baking powder are mixed.
Then they blend all the ingredients in a food processor and make them into a paste. Balls are made and then served in broth, soup, or noodles and garnished with rice vermicelli, boiled eggs, tofu, wontons, etc.
Bun Cha (Vietnam): Vietnamese meatball Bun Cha is usually made from pork shoulder meat. Bun cha is often used as an ingredient in Pho, a Vietnamese soup noodle dish. The meatballs are cooked in a tomato sauce, and chopped onion and peppers are used as toppings.
Bun cha can also be grilled rather than fried or steamed, and then served with rice noodles and a fish-based sauce seasoned with sugar, garlic, rice vinegar, chili, etc.
Meatballs are also very popular in other countries in the Southeast Asian region. In the Philippines, meatballs are called “bola bola” and are served in a traditional soup noodle with toasted garlic. Luk chin, or Thai meatballs, can be made from a variety of meats such as pork, beef, chicken, and even fish. They are served with soup or noodles.
Why Are Meatballs So Popular Around The World?
As I have already stated earlier, meatballs are extremely popular in every part of the world. Why is that, you might wonder? Let’s do some digging:
The ingredients of meatballs are simple; meat and spice. Also, you can use any type of meat, such as beef, mutton, pork, lamb, chicken, etc. You can even use different types of fish to make meatballs. Meat and fish are abundant in every region of the world. This is one of the main reasons behind the popularity of meatballs.
Although there are exotic recipes, the main theme of making meatballs is the same to the core. Mix ground meat with salt and some spices, make them into balls, and fry, grill, steam, cook, or whatever you like. It’s so simple that anyone can make it, and even if it’s your first time, there is hardly anything that can go wrong.
There isn’t any strict rule as to how meatballs should be eaten. You can eat it plain or with something like soup, noodles, rice, etc. You can have it as your main course or as a side dish. There are lots of options. You can add it to soup or use it as a pizza topping. Eat it with rice and gravy.
All I am saying is, you can go wild with meatballs, and so has the entire world. This is the reason that there are so many unique meatball recipes in the world.
Of course, the flavor is a big reason why meatballs are so popular. Meat is tasty by default. When you add various spices, herbs, and extra fat during the preparation of the ground meat, calling it “tasty” would be an understatement. They’re succulent, delectable, delicious, and, of course, popular.