Throwback Thursday: Meatballs!

Throwback Thursday: Meatballs!
Tony Jackman’s frikkadels with homemade tomato sauce, served on a white matt pan plate by Mervyn Gers. (Photo: Tony Jackman)

Meatballs. Frikkadels. Kofte. Keftedes. Polpette. Call them what you will, they’re among the most popular suppers in the world. But making your own beats the store-bought version any day.

From all of Europe to the Americas, the Middle East to China and Japan, Mexico to Brazil, even way down south in Africa, all the whole world loves a meatball. In South Africa we usually call them frikkadels, while Danes call theirs frikadeller. The French their boulettes de viandes, Greeks their keftedes. Norway has its kjøttkaker, Portugal, Mexico and many South American countries their almôndegas, and in North America, of course, they keep it straightforward with that famous staple, meatballs and spaghetti, which even has a movie named after it (Meatballs launched Bill Murray’s career in 1979) and a world-famous spoof song lyric, On Top of Spaghetti, by Tom Glazer and the Do Re Mi Children’s Chorus (1963), a riff on the hokey On Top of Old Smokey.

Meatballs are as varied as their names, countries of origin and the ways they can be prepared and cooked. Some are fried, others baked, yet others steamed or braised. Many are made from beef but others pork, veal or lamb, or combinations of those. There are chicken and seafood variations too. Canadians and the French make theirs with ground pork and spices, Albanian meatballs include feta cheese; Britain’s faggots are made from pork offal, while Italy’s polpette, made from beef and sometimes also pork, usually include (not surprisingly) cheese.

While Denmark’s frikadeller are made from pork and veal, South Africa’s are almost invariably made from beef. Wikipedia describes our frikkadels as an Afrikaner thing, and that is correct but not exclusively. Frikkadels are in the Cape Malay tradition too, sometimes served in a curry, a breyani, or with tomato and onion smoor.

Often they are served with mashed potato in our cuisine, but they’re so versatile that pasta, rice, couscous or for that matter pap go perfectly well with them. Pairing meatballs of whatever recipe or cuisine with some or other kind of tomato sauce is common worldwide, and it makes perfect sense.

Here’s the thing about a meatball: because the meat is ground (minced if you prefer), the ingredients that are added to it meld as one with the meat, so every aromatic that is added permeates all of the meat. If you cook a steak on a grill or in a skillet, it does take on the flavour of what you’ve added to it, but not nearly as intensively. That’s why, when you’ve mixed all your minced ingredients together and fry them off, the result is packed with wonderfully moreish flavour. That’s the secret to a meatball.

I set out to create a recipe for that classic South African meatball or frikkadel taste. The onion, the herbs, the tomato, a hint of spice, a dash of Worcestershire sauce (essential to a good South African meatball), all of which combine to give you a smack of umami on the lips.

Here we go…


650 g beef mince

1 medium white onion, very finely chopped or minced

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

¼ cup parsley, finely chopped

1 Tbsp brown grape vinegar

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

3 Tbsp tomato purée

1 tsp smoked paprika

¼ cup breadcrumbs

Salt and pepper

1 large egg, beaten

3 Tbsp olive oil


Preheat the oven to 190℃.

You’ll need freshly washed hands for this. I’d remove any rings. Combine all ingredients except the olive oil in a bowl and get your hands in there. Really work everything together. 

Take a handful at a time and form into six to eight balls. Put them on a tray in the fridge for at least half an hour.

Fry in hot olive oil until browned on both sides, then bake in the oven for 15 to 20 minutes. Serve with mashed potato and the mustardy tomato sauce that follows.

Tomato sauce:

2 Tbsp olive oil

1 garlic clove, chopped

1 medium onion, chopped

1 x 400g can of tomatoes

3 or 4 oregano sprigs

1 tsp hot English mustard

1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce

Salt and black pepper to taste


Cook the onions and garlic in olive oil until softened and slightly coloured. Add the tomatoes, oregano, mustard and Worcestershire sauce, and season with salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring. DM/TGIFood 

Tony Jackman is Galliova Food Champion 2021 for his food writing. His book foodSTUFF is now available in the DM Shop. Buy it here.

Mervyn Gers Ceramics supplies dinnerware for the styling of some TGIFood shoots. For more information, click here.

SUBSCRIBE: Our Thank God It’s Food newsletter is sent to subscribers every Friday at 6pm, and published on the TGIFood platform on Daily Maverick. It’s all about great reads on the themes of food and life. Subscribe here.

To enquire about Tony Jackman’s book, foodSTUFF (Human & Rousseau) please email him at [email protected]


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