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 10 from around the globe that you can make in the comfort of your own kitchen—plus a bonus plant-based ball for those who don’t do meat.
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.
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. (Or try IKEA’s Swedish Meatball recipe.)
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.
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 Frikadeller recipe.
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 Tsukune recipe.
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 Lion’s Head Meatballs recipe.
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 Kaeng Khiaw recipe.
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 Meatballs recipe.
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.
These Mediterranean inspired meatballs are made from lamb, but if you find the taste too gamy, you can still season a blend of pork and beef with mint, garlic, cumin, cinnamon, and coriander for worldly flair. And the Greek yogurt dipping sauce with lemon, cuin, and mint is a must, especially if you’re wrapping them up in flatbread. Get our Lamb Meatballs recipe.