Swedish Meatballs Are Turkish? ‘My Whole Life Has Been a Lie’
Posted May 3, 2018 6:37 p.m. EDT
LONDON — Sweden, land of Ikea and social welfare, has something to tell the world — news that could shock the palate.
Swedish meatballs, the signature national dish, are really Turkish.
The country’s national Twitter account made the announcement in a tweet this week.
“Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century,” the tweet said. “Let’s stick to the facts!”
It was not immediately clear why Sweden decided that now was the right time to set the record straight, but the admission created a storm of reaction.
Turks rejoiced. Some Swedes were dismayed. And the revelation set off some good-natured ribbing between the two countries.
“My whole life has been a lie,” one Swede lamented on Twitter.
Some Turks urged Sweden to change the name of its meatballs to the Turkish name, “kofte.”
Turkish media called the Swedish tweet a “confession” and suggested that Charles, who reigned from 1697 to 1718 and spent some years in exile in the Ottoman Empire early in the 18th century, took other Turkish products back to Sweden, including coffee beans and stuffed cabbage.
Sweden’s national Twitter account, apparently not wanting to start a culinary war, responded somewhat neutrally:
“Mind you, we love coffee even more than meatballs! At one point, we even had a coffee prohibition in Sweden!”
But it also seized the opportunity to highlight some of the country’s inventions. (Behold, the three-point seat belt.)
The private Turkish news agency Dogan went to the northwestern city of Inegol, which is famous for its meatballs, to get reaction to the Swedish announcement.
Ibrahim Veysel, a chef at a local meatball restaurant, exulted, “It is an honor that these tastes have become an example to different cuisines all over the world.”
The Swedish statement raised many burning questions, among them: What does it mean for Ikea? The Swedish furniture giant has long made Swedish meatballs a staple of its cafeterias in stores worldwide.
Two million meatballs are consumed there around the globe each day.
But there may be no cause for panic. Even in Turkey, where meatballs are readily available at food stalls, cafes and restaurants, many families flock to Ikea on the weekends to eat Swedish meatballs on the cheap: A portion of eight meatballs with sides of fries and vegetables costs about $1.60.
It’s not surprising that a country’s staple dishes can have foreign origins: See the debate over the origins of the croissant (experts agree it was inspired by the Austrian kipfel).
Turkish meatballs are distinct from Swedish meatballs in some ways. The former are made with a combination of ground beef, ground lamb, onions, eggs, bread crumbs and parsley. The current version of Swedish meatballs can sometimes contain pork and is usually served with gravy.
For a taste of real Turkish meatballs, here’s a kofte recipe from this reporter’s grandmother Fikriye, who spent her life in Turkey:
Yield: Serves 4-6
Time: 35-40 minutes
8 ounces each ground beef and lamb
3 slices of stale bread (of your choice), crusts removed
1/2 cup finely chopped mint
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, grated
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 bunch of flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
1/4 teaspoon red chili powder
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil
1. Soak the stale bread in water and then squeeze it dry. Break it into bread crumbs.
2. In a large bowl, combine the bread crumbs, onion, garlic, parsley, and chopped mint and knead for 3-5 minutes.
3. Add the meat and seasoning, including salt, pepper, cumin, chili powder (or flakes). Knead with your hands for another 3-5 minutes or until all the ingredients are mixed together. Leave the ingredients to rest for 15 minutes.
4. Wet your hands with water and take a small portion of the mixture and start rolling it into a ball. Then flatten each side with your hand.
5. Cook in a frying pan, skillet or griddle in a little olive oil. Cook until the meatballs are brown on both sides.