A survey of America’s most famous meatballs would quickly start with the red sauce-slathered ones on top of spaghetti and promptly end with the gravy-coated kind of the Swedish persuasion. Both of which are perfectly lovely. But they only begin to scratch at the surface of the United Nations of meatballs that exists out in the world at large, encompassing many forms of albondigas, boulettes, köfte, and more. The round little patties are a near-universal vehicle for carrying sauces and spices, or for stretching out portions of meat.
It’s time to get to know the many shades of meatballs. Here are nine from around the globe that you can make in the comfort of your own kitchen.
1. Basic Italian Meatballs
Basics first: the classic Italian meatball calls for a mix of beef and pork, plus plenty of tomato sauce and parmesan to gussy it up. Have a loaf of bread at the ready for sopping and swiping. Get our Basic Italian Meatballs recipe.
2. Swedish Meatballs
Like a convertible sofa bed, Swedish meatballs are versatile with multiple functions (no wonder they’re a favorite at Ikea). Serve them on toothpicks for a retro-tinged hors d'oeuvre, make them the centerpiece of your smorgasbord, or spoon them over egg noodles for a filling, gravy-soaked meal. Get our Swedish Meatballs recipe.
3. Turkish Köfte
Kofte is something of a catch-all term for the many different types of meatballs that can be found throughout the wider Middle East and Mediterranean. Turkey, however, might just be the kofte capital, based on the sheer variety that you can find there. Our recipe gets at some of their most essential flavors, including the sour tang of sumac and spicy dashes of cumin and paprika. Get our Turkish Köfte recipe.
4. Danish Pork Meatballs (Frikadeller)
Frikadeller are Denmark’s offbeat entry into the meatball game. Unlike their rounder counterparts, they’re slightly flattened, resembling miniature hamburgers. And while most other meatballs rely on bread to stay plump, these little patties use oats to boost their taste and texture. Get the recipe here.
5. Tsukune (Japanese Chicken Meatballs)
You can count on Japan to come up with the perfect marriage of meatballs with the grill. Prepared yakitori-style, these skewered chicken nubs are allowed to get smoky and crisp over charcoals before being brushed with a sweetened soy sauce tare. Get the recipe here.
6. Lion's Head Meatballs
If you want proof that meatballs are way more than just, well, balls of meat, look no further. This Shanghaiese classic is filled with big and aromatic ingredients, from vibrant ginger to crunchy water chestnuts. Get the recipe here.
7. Fish Balls in Green Curry
Your local Thai restaurant may make their green curry with the choice of chicken, beef, or pork. But bouncy fish balls are de rigeur in central Thailand. Not only are they fun to eat, they look pretty majestic glistening in the coconut-based broth. Get the recipe here.
8. Rice Paper Banh Mi with Pork
In Vietnam, meatballs can be found tucked in sandwiches, swimming in bowls of pho, on top of noodles—pretty much anywhere. These rolls even manage to stuff them inside delicate and thin rice wrappers, along with a bright mix of herbs and pickled veggies. Get our Rice Paper Banh Mi with Pork recipe.
9. Mexican Turkey Meatball Soup
Based off of the traditional sopa de albondigas, this soup is about as homely as you can get, with a mix of gently simmered veggies, cumin and chile powder-laced meatballs, and a light broth. Get our Mexican Turkey Meatball Soup recipe.
Miki Kawasaki is a New York City–based food writer and graduate of Boston University's program in Gastronomy. Few things excite her more than a well-crafted sandwich or expertly spiced curry. If you ever run into her at a dinner party, make sure to hit her up for a few pieces of oddball culinary trivia.