Early recipes included in some of the earliest known Persian cookbooks generally feature 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. Many regional variations exist, including the unusually large kufte Tabrīzī from Iran's northwestern region, with an average diameter of 20 centimetres (8 in).
In Austria, fried meatballs are called Fleischlaibchen or Fleischlaiberl.
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. They are often served in tomato sauce or with sour cherry sauce.
In Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, meatballs are called ćufte (from the Turkish word köfte) and are typically made from ground beef or ground lamb, usually served with cooked potatoes and salad on the side.
In Britain, faggots are a type of spicy pork meatball. A faggot is traditionally made from pig's heart, liver and a fatty cut of pork (pork belly or back bacon) minced together, with herbs added for flavoring, and sometimes bread crumbs.
In Bulgaria, meatballs are called kyufte (from the Turkish word köfte) 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.
In Croatia, meatballs are called polpete in the Dalmatian region or faširani šnicli (faširanci) or ćufte in the continental part. They are typically made with ground beef or a mixture of pork and beef and served with mashed potatoes or rice, often with tomato based sauce.
Danish meatballs are known as frikadeller and are typically fried. 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. However, the Danish cuisine also includes other versions, such as boller i karry (meatballs in curry sauce, typically served with rice), and the smaller meatballs used in soup with melboller (Danish dumplings).
In Estonia, meatballs are called lihapallid (literally "meatballs") and are similar to those of Finnish or Swedish cuisine.
In France, meatballs are known as boulettes de viandes or (in Northern France) fricadelles. In Alsace, 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 Greece, fried meatballs are called keftédes (κεφτέδες) (from the Turkish word köfte) and usually include within the mix of bread, onions, parsley 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 vagdalt or fasírt[ˈfɒʃiːrt] or fasírozott[ˈfɒʃiːrozott] probably coming from Austrian German faschierte Laibchen. It is a mixture of minced pork, minced onions, garlic, paprika, salt and breadcrumbs, deep fried in oil or pork fat and eaten with potatoes or főzelék. Also, the májgombóc[ˈmaːjɡomboːt͡s] (liver dumpling) is popular in soups.
In Italy, meatballs (called polpette[polˈpette], sing. polpetta) are generally eaten either as a main course or in soup. The main ingredients of an Italian meatball are beef and/or pork and sometimes poultry or sausage, 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[polpetˈtiːne].
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 bread crumbs.
In Norway, meatballs are called kjøttkaker (lit. "meatcakes"). They are often served with brown sauce, kålstuing (cabbage in cream sauce), tyttebærsyltetøy (lingonberry jam) and potatoes. Kjøttkaker are similar to kjøttboller, except in form. Kjøttboller are round, like the typical meatball, whereas kjøttkaker or meat cakes are in a patty form, flattened out and a bit oval in shape.
In Poland, they are called pulpety [pl] (singular pulpet, from the Italian name) or klopsy (singular klops, from German Klopse), 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 breadcrumbs 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[alˈmõdɨɣɐʃ]. These are usually served with a spicy tomato sauce and rice or sometimes pasta.
In Russia, they are called kotlety (Russian: котлеты) in flat forms or tefteli (Russian: тефтели) in ball forms. They can be made with chicken, pork, beef or fish. Tefteli have rice, potatoes and other vegetables mixed in as well. Kotlety are only made with meat and spices. They can be served with a side of mashed potatoes or noodles, or in a sauce.
In Slovenia, they are called polpeti. They are typically made with ground beef or a mixture of pork and beef and served with mashed potatoes, with tomato-based sauce.
In Spain and Hispanic America, meatballs are called albóndigas, derived from the Arabical-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. Mexican albóndigas are commonly served in a soup with a light broth and vegetables.
In Sweden, meatballs are called köttbullar (literally "meat buns"). They are usually made with a mix of ground beef and ground pork, or just with ground beef, which is mixed into a mixture of beaten eggs, breadcrumbs soaked in milk, and grated raw onions or finely chopped and fried onions. Cream is often added for more luxurious versions. The meatball mixture is seasoned with salt and white pepper or a mixture of white pepper and allspice. Swedish meatballs are traditionally served with gravy, boiled or mashed potatoes, lingonberry jam, and sometimes pickled cucumber. Traditionally, they are small, around 2–4 centimetres (0.79–1.57 in) in diameter, though larger meatballs are often served at restaurants. In 2018, Sweden's official national Twitter account claimed that Swedish meatballs are based on a Turkish recipe, brought back to Sweden by King Charles XII in 1714, after his five year semi-imprisonment in the Ottoman Empire, which caused comments around the world. However, a food and culture expert at Stockholm University claimed that there was no evidence behind this and that the meatballs likely originated in France or Italy instead. This caused the original tweeter, Sweden.se, to backtrack a few days later.
In Turkey, meatballs are called köfte and are extremely popular; there are many different versions with a variety of shapes – not necessarily round. Meatballs in Turkey are usually made with ground lamb or a mix of ground beef and lamb. Variants are mostly named after their traditional cities; such as İnegöl köfte, İzmir köfte, Akçaabat köfte and Tire köfte. Some of the other popular ones are şiş köfte, kadınbudu köfte [ca; tr] and sulu köfte. There is also a variant called Çiğ köfte that can be vegan.
In Ukraine, they are called kotleta (Ukrainian: котлета) when fried and frykadelka (Ukrainian: фрикаделька) when boiled in soup.
Most meatball recipes found in the Americas are derived from European cuisine influences, notably Italian, Sicily, Iberian (Portuguese-Spanish), and Nordic (Swedish) cuisines.
In Brazil, meatballs are called almôndegas, derived from Italian influences. These are usually served with tomato sauce and pasta.
In the Canadian province of Quebec, meatballs are the main component of a traditional dish called ragoût de boulettes (meatball stew). The meatballs are made with ground pork, onions, spices like cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg and are simmered in a gravy thickened with toasted flour. The dish is normally served with boiled or mashed potatoes and pickled beets. It is so popular that a factory-processed version of the dish is available canned in most supermarkets throughout the province.
In Mexico, albóndigas are commonly served with a light broth and vegetables, or with a mild chipotle sauce.
In Puerto Rico, they are called albóndigas and have a strong Italian influence. Puerto Ricans living in New York City brought the recipe back to Puerto Rico, because many Puerto Ricans in New York City lived side by side with Italians. The meatballs are usually seasoned with sofrito, olives, capers, cheese, egg, breadcrums, parsley, carrots, mint, adobo, sazon (annatto, paprika, cumin, and coriander seeds), almonds, and coffee. It is typically eaten in a sandwich with melted cheese on top or stewed in tomato sauce, or with rice, in a dinner called Arroz con albondigas (rice with meatballs)
In the United States, meatballs are commonly derived from European cuisines. They are usually served with spaghetti, on pizza, or on a sub (i.e., spaghetti and meatballs, meatball pizza, and meatball sandwiches). 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 entrée. Another variation, "porcupine meatballs", consists of basic meatballs often with rice in them. Several varieties of meatball pizza exist, such as Tex Mex and Greek-style lamb sweet-and-sour. The meatballs on meatball pizzas may be sliced to reduce their size, sliced in half, or broken up and spread out across the pizza.
Kofta is a type of meatball or dumpling that is widely distributed in Middle Eastern, South Asian, Mediterranean and Balkan (Central and Eastern Europe) cuisines. The word kofta is derived from Persiankūfta: 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 is 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.
Armenian stewed meatballs/meatball and vegetable stew (kufte rize) is a classic dish often poured over rice for consumption.
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 "kufte Tabrīzī", traditionally from Tabriz in northwestern Iran.
In Israel, meatballs are called ktzitzot basar (Hebrew: קציצות בשר), or sometimes simply ktzitzot (Hebrew: קציצות). Their exact ingredients and preparation vary widely, due to the influence of Jewish immigration from different regions. They are typically made of spiced ground beef, though turkey and chicken versions are also available, and in their common form, they are shaped as slightly flattened balls, pan fried and then cooked in tomato sauce or broth. Other variations also exist, including the gondi, which were brought by the Persian Jews, the albondigas of the Sephardic cuisine, and the kufta that is customary with some Mizrahi Jews.
Meatballs are popular in South Asian cuisine. In India, vegetarian versions of koftas are made with paneer, potato, bottle gourd, raw banana or other vegetables. South Asian meatballs are normally cooked in a spicy curry. In Pakistan, they are cooked in a gravy called chorba. Sometimes whole pre-boiled eggs are added, and sometimes the eggs are encased in a layer of the kofta meat to make something resembling a Scotch egg. These kofta dishes are very popular with Indian diaspora and are available in many Indian restaurants.
In Syria, meatballs are prepared in numerous ways. They are grilled on charcoal with or without eggplants or cooked in a stew with potato, onion and tomato sauce with a side of rice which is called Dawood Pasha.
In West Bengal state of India and Bangladesh, koftas are made with prawns, fish, green bananas, and 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, a popular variant of meatballs is tsukune, minced chicken meatballs on a skewer. The Japanesehamburger 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. Another kind of meatball called Tsumire is made from ground fish. This is often added to soups or Nabes (stews).
In the Philippines, meatballs are called bola-bola or almondigas and are usually served in a misua noodle soup with toasted garlic, squash and pork cracklings. Bola-bola are derived from Hispanic influence on Filipino cuisine and ultimately derived from Moorish influence. Bola-bola 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 Thailand, meatballs (luk chin) are various. The materials can be pork, beef, chicken and fish. The finished meatballs can be incorporated into many dishes. They can be grilled, deep fried, eaten with dipping sauce, or can be used as the component of noodle soups.
In Vietnam, meatballs (thịt viên or 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.