1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Swedish meatballs are actually Turkish

May 3, 2018

Will Turkish meatballs now fill the plates of hungry shoppers at Swedish furniture giant Ikea? News that Sweden's iconic dish came from the Ottoman Empire set off a social media flurry that drew in a German politician.

An ikea sign for Swedish meatballs
Image: picture-alliance/dpa

Sweden's recent announcement that Swedish meatballs are not originally from Sweden but in fact came from the Ottoman Empire, present-day Turkey's predecessor, set off a social media firestorm.

Sweden.se, Sweden's official website, which is run by various organizations including its culture and foreign affairs, tweeted late last week that the recipe for the iconic Swedish dish known as "kottbullar" is actually Turkish. 

Swedish King Charles XII brought the recipe for the meatballs home after spending time in exile in the Ottoman Empire in the early 18th century.

Many consider the dish to be a national dish of Sweden, in part thanks to its presence on Ikea menus at the Swedish furniture store's outlets around the world.

Read more: Insect meatballs top the food trends at Germany's Anuga trade fair

Sweden.se pointed out that lingonberry jam, a common accompaniment to Swedish meatballs, remains "as Swedish as it gets."

The reason behind the announcement was not clear.

Social media users reacted to the announcement humorously, with many using both the Turkish and Swedish flags side by side and some describing the revelation of the meatball dish's heritage as "identity crisis."

Others reacted with exaggeration to the announcement:

Many thanked the site for sharing the information, including German politician from the Green Party, Ali Bas.

Others still poked fun at the announcement by using yet another symbol that is associated with Swedish cuisine: the Swedish chef, a Jim Henson Muppet that was created to parody television celebrity chefs and who speaks a Swedish-sounding gibberish.

Turkish meatballs, known as "kofte," are balls made from ground beef or lamb meat that are usually well-seasoned and then baked, grilled or fried. Swedish meatballs sometimes contain pork and are usually served with a savory gravy sauce.

The revelation that Swedish meatballs actually come from a Turkish recipe opens a new puzzle when it comes to food origins: the Turkish daily Sabah reported that there are 291 variations of kofte in Turkey.

Additionally, similar meatball dishes exist throughout the Middle East, parts of Asia and Southeast Europe.

Köttbullar: Meatballs from Sweden

DW author Cristina Burack.
Cristina Burack Editor and reporter focusing on culture, politics and history