3.292 Swedish Meatballs

-Cycle 3, Item 292-
23 (Tue) October 2012

Swedish Meatballs


by me

at home

-Oksu, Seoul-

with Wife and Dominic

About a month ago, I began a dialogue with reader Gustaf from Sweden that eventually led to this evening's meal.  

Under the post featuring a meal of Spam/egg/kimchi with rice, he commented: "OMG that sounds so awful... But I might give that meal a try just for the heck of it.. If I can get my hands on some spam that is..." (see 1.101 Spam & Fried Egg & Kimchi (& Tofu) with Steamed Rice).  Being in Sweden, Spam wasn't the only problem; kimchi would also be very difficult to come by.  He found the Spam.  He made the kimchi.  That's right, he made kimchi.  He found a recipe online and somehow managed to acquire the ingredients or whatever was suitably close and did it.  Which is ironic because the meal is supposed to be one of quick convenience, and amazing because the vast majority of Koreans themselves don't even make their own kimchi these days.  Gustaf's mission report: "Hey man!  I just tried 'making' this dish myself!  You were right, the combination of salty spam, the fried egg, the (homemade) kimchi, and finally the rice was pretty awesome!"  Apparently, this blog has grown so powerful that it now dictates the dietary habits of Scandinavia.  He sent me photos.

Looks perfect (but is that milk?!?!).

Korean stainless steel chopsticks for total authenticity!

In the spirit of cultural exchange, I offered to make something Swedish in return.  As an American, Swedish meatballs came to mind, popular as they are in the United States, particularly in the Northern Midwest (think Fargo), where early immigrants from Sweden had settled.  He sent me a recipe.  I did some online research and found loads of additional recipes, albeit from American sources.  With the hubris of an international power blogger, I combined elements from the various recipes to synthesize my own.  The resulting dish turned out far beyond expectations.  So simple yet richly satisfying, succulent melt-in-the-mouth meatballs, savory buttery sauce.  An instant classic.  I'm very tempted to give it 4.0, but I'll hold off until I can repeat the feat for objective confirmation, perhaps adding potatoes or egg noodles to make it more of a complete meal, as well as lingonberry jam.  I'll share the recipe then.

To paraphrase Chandler Bing, the Swedes probably wouldn't refer to the dish as "Swedish meatballs."  I forgot to ask Gustaf what it's called, but the internet suggests "köttbullar."  However, as the recipe formulated here may be Americanized, I'll stick with "Swedish meatballs" for now.

Thanks, Gustaf!  (We should do this again, with other dishes.)


  1. OMG they look really delicious! But what is the exact recipe you used (including for the sauce)? And how come you ate it without any addditional items, such as potatoes? I don't think I've ever had a meal consisting of just meat in my whole life. Maybe it's just me, but I need to have different food products in every other bite....

    But anyway: very well done! They look really good, almost as good as my later grandmother's meatballs (which happens to be the best meatballs I've ever had and probably will ever have... I never got her recipe, and I doubt she even had one)....

    But yeah, of course we should do it again. But with which dishes? For the Swedish dish, I propose (Swedish) pancakes. But what for the Korean? I'm trying to think of a Korean dish which I both miss and haven't done properly yet... Maybe 비빔밥? It was one of my favorite dishes in Korea, one of the few great things about me and my friends roadtrip to 전주 (spelling?) was being to eat 비빔밥 "at the source" :) I think what has been stopping me having to chop up the vegetables so finely..

  2. PS I: it's just called "köttbullar" in Swedish, which literaly mean "meatballs" (or, directly translated "meatbuns") (kött = meat, bullar=buns).

    PS II: That is indeed milk in the first picture... I'm not sure about Koreans or Americans, but us Swedes consume a lot of milk, probably one of the highest rates per capita in the world...

  3. Plus, a funny parallell of me making kimchi and you making meatballs is that a lot of Swedes (mostly those with just a limited interest in cooking) don't make their meatballs from "scratch" as you just did, they buy factory-made meatballs (deep frozen) that only needs to be pan-fried for a while... I used to do it, but got sick of the "artificial" taste (probably from preservatives) of it...

  4. this is a pretty spectacular exchange between the two of you, one that actually should earn you the title of international power blogger!

  5. @Lisa: well, i've been wielding my influence on the US market for quite some time now; this is just me getting a foothold in Europe.


    1. I can't imagine using premade meatballs for anything. meatballs are a bit time consuming to make, but so easy. that's absolutely shocking that swedes buy theirs from the factory.

    2. about the "kottbullar," does that term include the sauce or just the meatballs themselves? like, on a menu, would it say, "Kottbullar with Cream Sauce?"

    3. koreans drink milk, but not with rice and kimchi.

    4. i'll post the recipe along with step by step photos next time. that'd be great if you could make them and tell me how authentic they are.

    5. it didn't occur to me to add potatoes or noodles until later, when all that great gravy was left over. next time.

    6. also, i tried looking for lingonberry jam, but couldn't find it. anyway, i hate jam, so please forgive me for not substituting with something close.

    7. please don't ever compare me with your grandmother, or any grandmother when it comes to cooking! blasphemy!!!!

    8. for my next swedish challenge, potato pancakes it is. but be sure to include any herbs or sauces that would make it as swedish as possible. as you're fond of pointing out, potato pancakes seems like one of those things that could be attributed to many cultures if done plain.

    9. i'd be very curious to see how you tackle bibimbap, but it's so time/labor-intensive. and can you even get the essential ingredients? at a minimum: sesame oil and gochujang, plus bean sprouts, spinach, shiitake or oyster mushrooms, zucchini? how about something simpler, but not too simple, like bulgogi or galbi jjim or oxtail soup ?

  6. 1. I guess it's just laziness and pure convenience..
    2. "köttbullar" would only mean just the meatballs by themselves... on a meny it would say something like you wrote "meatballs with lingonberry and cream seauce" or something similar... Although it would seem weird to a Swede to eat meatballs at a restaurant. Eating out in Sweden (except at IKEA or some fast food joint) is horribly expensive, spending tons of money and then just eating something as "common" as meatballs would seem like a waste of money...
    4. Yeah sounds good! Would be nice to see how the dish "evolves" by travelling across the world, and by combining several different recipes
    6. In my experince, a lot of the things that are extremely easy to come by here are almost impossible to get in Korea, and vice versa (I remember going to HomePlus tryin to get something as simple as oatmeal, and they didn't have it, they didn't even have müsli...)
    8. Potato pancakes is something totally different. As we have discussed before, we have something that could be translated to "potato pancake" (it's called raggmunk) but the difference to 감자전 is pretty small. And it is the most fun dish to make. "Swedish pancakes" is very similar to what the French call "crepes", not sure about the exact difference. It's a very easy dish to make (as seen in this recipe, which seem to be pretty much true to what we make If you want something more challenging, you could try to make pea soup at the same time. It's a Swedish tradition to eat pancakes and pea soup on Thursdays, something dating back to Catholic times (according to Wikipedia, please refer to this article for more info

    The question is if yellow peas would be easy to come by in Korea? If you have the peas and some basic spices (plus some onion), pea soup is somewhat time consuming but extremely easy to make...Plus it's super cheap.

    9. All the ingredients, except gochujang I would be able to come by at most stores around here. But I happen to have a pretty big package of gochujang left from my last visit to the Korean food store in Stockholm, so the ingredients shouldn't be a problem. I think it will actually be quite on the "right" difficulty level. Should I use kimchi in the bibimbab as well? I'm thinking of doing another try of making kimchi, and this time using a new recipe (combined with some parts of the recipe I used the last time).

  7. Oh and the correct Wikipedia articles are:


  8. 2. that's absolutely fascinating that swedes consider meatballs such an essential part of the cuisine, and yet you don't eat it at restaurants. i can't really think of anything korean that people would only eat at home. maybe the kimchi/spam/egg meal? but that's not really considered a dish, just a convenient combination of things that are always available. it's also funny that you guys go to ikea. i never thought about ikea actually in sweden. is it like costco in the states?

    6. funny, i just got a free box of musli from Pulmuone (a local food company), and i don't know what to do with it. believe it or not, i have never eaten oatmeal.

    8. ok, i'm DEFINITELY going to try to make the pea soup and pancake combo. i especially love the thing about the thursday tradition. i just showed my wife the photo of the pancake on the link you gave me, and she wanted me to make them right away. the problem with the soup is that i may have difficulty finding yellow peas. i don;t think i've ever seen yellow peas in my life. do you know of any grocery store in seoul that caters specifically to europeans, especially northern europeans? maybe i can find them canned somewhere. because if i have to use green, then maybe that would be more finnish? and i may have difficulty getting ham hocks, as some recipes require. can i substitute with ham?

    9. let me know if you need tips on the namul. as i do myself, i'd suggest keeping it simple with just the 4 types mentioned above. you could also add some ground beef sauteed in soy sauce and sesame oil, but i prefer my bibimbap vegetarian. plain shredded red lettuce adds a bit of freshness. and no, don't put the kimchi in the bibimbap, just serve it on the side. good luck!

  9. 2. I guess since eating out at a "proper" restaurant is seen as such a "premium" experience, eating something regular, everyday food would seem like a travesty... maybe like if you would take your wife for kimbap at a fancy snazy Gangnam restaurant for your wedding anniversy? And yeah, people love to go to IKEA.. Since the prices in their on-the-premises-restaurant I think it might be subsidized. Some people seem to have it as their weekend hobby to go to IKEA, browse around and then eat at the restaurant :)

    6. NEVER? I actually eat porridge made out of oatmeal for breakfast every single day... Porridge, served with milk and lingonberries, a very healthy and also cheap breakfast...

    8. Hmm not so sure about that. The only places I've heard about (which you no doubt already know of, and as I remember, already have mentioned on this blog) are places that sell premium-prized food products such as smoked meats and cheeses, not something as basic as yellow peas... I guess green peas could work as well, although I've never eaten pea soup made of green peas. It could be an opportunity for you to add yet another nation to the "origin" category :) An yeah you can substitute it with any ham, you could even do it without any meat whatsoever, I have done that a couple of times.

    9. I'm gonna look up a good recipe for the bibimbab. Yeah one of the things that confuses me about the recipes I find on the internet compared with the food I ate in Korea, is that a lot of the dishes I remember being vegetarian (or more or less so), such as kimchi jjigae, bibimbab etc, almost alway include meat when you look at an online recipe....

  10. 2. well, we'd go out and eat kimbap at a cheap restaurant, like kimbap nara or something. u made it sound like ALL restaurants in sweden are expensive. that's still so funny about swedes hanging out at IKEA!!! do u all drive volvos too?

    6. no offense, but oatmeal just looks and sounds gross (though i'm sure it actually isn't).

    8. i could go with the green peas and make it "Finnish," but the whole point of this was to make another Swedish dish. i'll do the best i can and hopefully make it on thursday (of course).

    9. yeah, i think the meat is just to make it seem more like a "dish," even though sometimes it's better without. be sure to send photos.

  11. Haha, spending my exchange semester in Åbo right now. Funny to see a glass of milk in the picture. Even the Finns tend to drink one glass of fat free milk with every meal at the cafeteria on campus.

  12. hey, philipp, thanks for your comment!

    if you're finnish, then you're now my #1 Finnish Fan.

    milk goes well with most european-style meals, but it just doesn't seem right with kimchi. but whatever makes you happy...

  13. No, I'm not Finnish, but Austrian. Just studying here for a semester ;) That's the reason why I couldn't really adopt the habit of drinking milk with my lunch...

  14. 2. No not all, but it's still a very common car. Not in any way as common as it used to be though... If you look at older cars that are still roaming our streets, a very high proportion of them are either Volvos or Saab's though..

    6. A lot of my friends would surely think the same think about eating rice and kimchi for breakfast :)

    9. I will surely do! I might do it might meat just for the heck of it... I just have to find a good recipe first, which I'm sure will not be a problem..

  15. @Philipp: i think at least 1 austrian has commented on the blog, about my schnitzel. that wasn't you, was it? anyway, thanks for reading!


    6. yeah, i see what you mean.

    9. i don't have a recipe per se, but i could give you some pointers if that would help.

    10. BTW, it looks like i won't be able to make the pancakes and pea soup this thursday due to a scheduling conflict. but hopefully i'll be able to make the swedish meatballs again, this time with tagliatelle, on wednesday.