Bombshell from Sweden regarding an iconic dish

 Swedish meatballs

Cities, regions, and even countries take pride in foods that become irrevocably linked to the location – think Nashville’s hot chicken or New Zealand’s pavlova. For Sweden, the national dish is Swedish meatballs. A recent tweet from Sweden’s official Twitter account, however, has shocked the collective conscience of the country.

“Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century,” said Saturday’s tweet. “Let’s stick to the facts!” Charles ascended to the throne in 1697 at the age of 15. For several years, he lived in the area now known as Moldova, which was ruled by Turkey as part of the Ottoman Empire. When Charles returned to Sweden in 1715, he brought with him the recipe for the meatballs that would become associated with his country.

This announcement shows the fragility that accompanies claims of provenance, and also rends holes in the fabric of the label “authentic”. Ingredients, spices, and recipes have circumnavigated the globe for eons. While the pace may have picked up in the last several generations as modes of transportation improved, the evolution of foods has been occurring for much longer. Many of the foods firmly linked with European countries, for example, came to the region from the New World. Shall we say that Italy’s tomato sauces or Ireland’s colcannon are then “inauthentic”? How long does a food have to be in a country before it is considered part of its heritage?

So can Sweden still claim the meatballs as their own? Well, why not? It’s fair to say that the dish may not have enjoyed such longstanding reverence without the intervention of King Charles XII. Serving the meatballs with lingonberries also bolsters Sweden’s claim. “[Lingonberries] don’t grow in Sweden exclusively,” the country tweeted Wednesday. “But lingonberry jam accompanying meatballs is damn near as Swedish as it gets!” Not only Swedish, but delicious, and that’s the most important part.

Photo of Juicy and tender Swedish meatballs with rich gravy from Serious Eats.


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