About the long journey through the history of the ‘albóndigas’

by Lorraine Williamson

MADRID – Meatballs are the epitome of the power of simplicity behind the counter. They have become an integral part of most kitchens. Everyone has their recipe for albóndigas. 

Not only do they leave our mouths watering, but they can also evoke a sense of nostalgia. We all have or had a grandmother who used to prepare delicious meatballs or balls. They vary considerably in size by country and region. The variety of recipes is great by using different ingredients or adding sauces. Moreover, with the right ‘touch’ you can conjure up a true delicacy on the table. 

The ‘albondiga’ 

In Spain, they call meatballs albóndigas, which comes from the Arabic al-bunduqa. It means something like ‘small and round’ and ‘ball’. The al-bunduqa were sold at souks: Arab markets in the Spain of the Moors, Al-Andalus. The balls became the most popular food among the ‘common folk’. 

The origin of the meatballs 

Over the centuries, meatballs have undergone the necessary metamorphoses. According to tradition, tasty meatballs already existed in Ancient Rome. Here, only privileged Romans with a kitchen in their Domus (Latin for house) could enjoy the albóndigas. 

Related post: Where to enjoy the best tapas in Spain? 

The immensely rich Roman Marco Gavius ​​Apicius was such a great food lover that he spent his entire fortune on it. He also wrote the oldest cookbook in the world: De re coquinaria, a book full of authentic, classical Roman recipes. 

Yet the Moors introduced the meatballs to Spain during their centuries-long rule of the Iberian Peninsula. The popularity of the meat dish reached its peak during the heyday of the Caliphate of Córdoba. 

From fish balls to Turkish köfte 

Meatballs were widely known in the Middle Ages. Not only was it more finely chopped meat that the balls were made from, but now also fish; introduced by the Sephardic Jews in ancient Al-Andalus. However, meatballs remained the most popular. 

Turkey still has the most varied versions. Over the course of history, this intercontinental country has developed more than 100 types of meatballs. The balls are usually called köfte but have a different name in each region. 

Related post: The history of tapas 


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