Meatballs

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

meatballs have been the subject of an eccentric and enthralling book by Spoerri (1982), but neither he, nor any other author, has succeeded or could succeed in treating the subject comprehensively. There are too many manifestations, around the world, of this item, which is essentially just minced meat (of any edible animal) formed into a ball and cooked in any of various ways. For some of the best versions, in S. Asia, the Middle East, the Balkans, and N. Africa, see kofta.

Some of the general names in other languages for meatball are: albóndiga (Spanish); keftédes (Greek); kötbulle (Swedish); Klopse (German); frikadeller (Danish). There is great diversity among these, for the other ingredients and flavourings vary considerably. In Greece, for example, meatballs may include flat-leaved parsley, Greek oregano, thyme, mustard seeds, wine, breadcrumbs, olive oil, and salt and pepper. The result is unmistakably Greek and could not conceivably be confused with a meatball from one of the Nordic countries. Traditional sauces or accompaniments also serve as lines of demarcation. Dill sauce or sour cream and spring onion sauce would label meatballs Russian, as Lesley Chamberlain (1983) indicates in an interesting passage about the oval kotlety and round bitki of that country. (She also implies what are patently insoluble riddles about the points at which meatballs become meat patties or hamburgers or rissoles as their shape diverges from the purely spherical. Such questions abound. May one call a torpedo-shaped kibbeh a meatball?)