As our dear readers will be well aware of all things Swedish and Sweden are currently a hot pick in the world of Turkish media; this article is however not about current affairs. What inspired it instead was the immense interest over here in Türkiye into daily life up there in the Nordics, and equally a heightened interest into Turkish day-to-day life up there.
Your friendly columnist experienced this himself on a number of occasions having recently travelled to that fine country for work and staying in the context of a feel-good contribution wanted to share with you a somewhat surprising issue, and at the same time a topic putting a smile on people’s faces. Here we go – is it true that Sweden’s traditional – some would even say national – dish of Köttbullar originated exactly here in Türkiye?
Funny enough – initially it was the Turks both here and for example in Stockholm who spoke with me who agreed and what amazed me the most was that regardless of professional background and once the subject matter came up everyone seemed to be on the same side of past events. In a foodie nutshell – it previously had never occurred to me that exactly this topic is duly enshrined in local folklore and supposedly official history alike; my idea was when in Sweden nothing better than to indulge in tasty Köttbullar and when in Türkiye enjoy fabulous Köfte, that was it. By the way, Köttbullar is somewhat difficult to pronounce as the ‘K’ is no K; this is your homework then, please google the link to the correct online pronunciation.
Let us now briefly engage in a little bit of investigative journalism. Who broke the news? A wider audience not limited to Sweden or Türkiye, respectively, was alerted to the debate on 1 May 2018 when the BBC’s Kris Bramwell and Dilay Yalcin headlined ‘Swedish meatball admission: they’re Turkish’. They referred to a social media post by the Swedish government which read ‘Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey (Türkiye; own addition) in the early 18th century. Let’s stick to the facts!’ The BBC summed up what had been apparently a widely debated agenda item amongst the Turkish audience now making head-waves overseas, too. BBC finally cited Annie Mattson as quoted by Anadolu Agency – a researcher at Sweden’s Uppsala University – who said King Charles XII also brought coffee beans and stuffed cabbage.
Hence and as the Swedish government wrote in 2018, we better stick to the facts. And fact is that King Charles XII had lost against Russia during the Great Northern War and had to take refuge elsewhere and came to the Ottoman Empire in the year 1709. Fact is too that some 1000 men accompanied him. He stayed for five years in a place what is now near Moldova (Bender) and later on in Edirne. All his expenses were initially willingly met by the Ottoman state budget; however, eventually he ran out of favours and accumulated huge debts with local tradespeople. In 1714 he finally returned in order to stay at the Swedish helm on location and not far away. For those of you who wish to dig deeper into his life a very good source is ‘https://www.britannica.com/biography/Charles-XII/Years-in-Turkey-1709-14’.
There are of course two potential versions – the King himself brought the recipe, or some of his accompanying local men hailing from the Ottoman empire who of course had been eating Köfte long before King Charles XII set foot onto Ottoman territory. But as the Swedish government happily admitted their favourite dish came from Türkiye together with the King why not go along with that?
Another fact is Köttbullar are as delicious as our Köfte although they differ quite a bit in how they are made and served. First, the Swedish version usually contains a combination of pork and beef. You would place some lingonberry jam or sauce next to the meatballs which up there are truly balls, so they look different, too. For a family of four one would prepare around 30 of those meatballs which are not that big at all. To add a bit of spice pressed cucumber should be on your plate and of course another absolutely vital ingredient – mashed or another form of potatoes, respectively. My verdict – mashed does the job better.
The image added is aimed at illustrating how it might be served; not to make any undue PR but we should mention the location of where this photo was taken, at the Radisson Blu Waterfront in Stockholm, by myself.
Same as with Turkish Köfte one will find it on almost all good menus but of course not in a Chinese or Italian restaurant. It can be ‘posh’ as in a hotel or ‘take away’ as in a self-service cafeteria, think IKEA. But no matter where we come across Swedish meatballs the recipe and key ingredients should remain identical.
Enough of writing about meatballs, feeling peckish already or perhaps even real hungry only thinking about either dish. The debate about where the northern variety originally came from underlines nevertheless something else and something quite important: food is a bridge builder, food unites cultures, food is to be enjoyed and we must always remember food is something to be thankful for. Maybe one of these days a future story pops up, this time which kind of Swedish food item found its way across borders and across continents?
Enjoy the pre-season in our wonderful resort!