Swedish meatballs made easy in Stockholm

Swedes and tourists alike go crazy for Swedish meatballs - and when a Stockholm youth hostel offered lessons on how to make the perfect batch, contributor Susann Eberlein went along to find out more.

Swedish meatballs made easy in Stockholm

“It’s hard to find good Swedish food in Stockholm – it’s probably easier to find a good Italian restaurant! And what’s worse, Swedish food is really expensive,” says Richard Råberg, the organizer of the hostel’s Meatball Experience programme.

And he should know. Hailing from Stockholm, Råberg works for the award-winning City Backpackers Hostel in Stockholm, only a few hundred meters from the Central Station in the heart of the city.

For a long time he was in charge of bar and sightseeing tours, but now he specializes in Swedish food.

Every Tuesday and Thursday evening, Råberg teaches an audience of mostly young tourists how to cook köttbullar, or Swedish meatballs.

“Here in Sweden we eat meatballs all the time,” Råberg says.

“And a lot of people visiting Stockholm like to know how to make them.”

And he’s right. “The Meatball Experience” is popular and the 13 places available for each installment of the course usually fill up in a flash.

This was the case when The Local went along too. Peter from Hong Kong and his friend Maaike from The Netherlands were two of the crowd wanting to take part.

“We thought cooking meatballs would be a fun and interesting thing to do while here besides the normal sightseeing,” Peter explains.

“And we’re both foodies,” Maaike adds.

Before anyone gets going with the meatballs, Råberg, who is also the head chef, allows everyone to sample some other Swedish specialties.

As a starter, he serves knäckebröd crisp bread and pickled herring, topped with chopped onions, chives, and caviar paste.

Not unlike many other visitors to Sweden, some of the eager chefs turned their noses up at the Swedish food and waited expectantly for the meatball lesson to begin.

While mixing together the ingredients — minced meat, one egg, spices (salt, pepper, white pepper, clove), breadcrumbs, cream and onions — seems easy to do, the kneading of the doughy mass is much harder, and requires more physical exertion than one might expect.

Click here for a step by step gallery of how the meatballs were made.

“Those who work the hardest now will get the most meat in their balls,” Manuel from Germany jokes.

On his way to a conference in Finland, he stopped off in Stockholm – and now finds himself elbow-deep in meatball mix.

Afterwards, it’s all about the sense of proportion – and when it comes to these balls size does matter – with one teaspoon being the perfect measure.

“You better not make the meatballs too big, or they’ll take forever in the pan,” chef Råberg warns.

“Have you seen Hell’s Kitchen? Gordon Ramsay’s my idol – I’ll come and yell at you if you don’t pay attention,” he says, with a sly wink.

And then, it’s rolling time. And even though 12 people are involved in rolling meatballs out of just three kilograms of mince, it’s not a quick process, but Abba’s “Super Trooper” in the background keeps the would-be chefs in high spirits.

Meanwhile, Råberg prepares the actual cooking part, heating up some butter in the pan.

“In the beginning you have to be really gentle with the meatballs. Try to keep them round and turn them, so they get brown all over.”

After only moments in the pan, the meatballs appear to be ready, but Råberg is quick to set the story straight.

“You might think they’re done. But they’re not,” he says, adding that it takes about 20 more minutes to get them all ready to be eaten.

The participants are very pleased with the food, once the meatballs have finished sizzling in the pan and they are allowed to sit down and dig in.

And it’s clear that the food is enjoyed by the tourists.

“My stepmother is Swedish. She cooks köttbullar a lot, but never told me her recipe. But now I can cook some as good as hers,” Maaike from The Netherlands says.

Coraline from France also plans to bring her new cooking skills home.

“It was a fun experience. I will definitely cook this for my friends back in France.”

One thing is certain and that is that learning from a real expert is much more reliable than taking after some other famous Swedish chefs… The example below is a particularly good example of how not to do it!

Susann Eberlein

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13 sure signs you’ve mastered the Swedish language

Anyone who's attempted it will admit that the Swedish language has its tricky aspects. The unique sounds, the rules regarding word order, and the frankly obscene number of plural forms all make it difficult to master, leaving many learners uncertain how to reply when asked the inevitable questions of 'do you speak Swedish?' and the ensuing 'so are you fluent?' The good news is, if you identify with most of the items on this list, you're well on your way.

13 sure signs you've mastered the Swedish language
Learning Swedish is about more than just picking up the grammar. Here's how you know you've cracked it. Photo: Simon Paulin/

Locals no longer switch to English for your sake…

Learning Swedish is a bit of a catch 22: to improve your language, you need to talk to native speakers, but most of them have a tendency to switch to English the moment they detect a sniff of uncertainty.

It's always a milestone the first time you make it through a conversation with native friends without them needing to translate a term for you or dissolving into laughter at your mispronunication or misunderstanding. When people stop challenging you to say the phrase 'sju sjuka sjuksköterskor', or when you don't even flinch if they do, you know you've officially levelled up.

… but you sometimes do

This one's another paradox. Many Swedes, particularly of the younger generation, tend to slip English words and phrases into conversation, even with other native Swedish speakers. Most of the time, there's a perfectly usable Swedish equivalent, but phrases like 'you only live once', 'crazy', and 'oh my God' often creep into informal speech as well as TV programmes and adverts.

It's probably due to picking up these phrases from American TV or films, or switching language to add emphasis or nuance to a phrase, and it's not surprising because of Swedes' high level of English: switching between languages, also called code-switching, is common among bilinguals across the world.

Swedish learners, however, tend to be diligent about using the Swedish they know whenever possible. Once you start saying 'najs' (pronounced like 'nice') instead of 'trevlig' on occasion, or otherwise peppering your speech with English phrases again, it's actually a sign you're confident in your Swedish.

You know when things are good or bad

Good and bad are among the most frequently used terms in any language, but the Swedish variations are loaded with nuances the beginner might miss. 'God/tt' is used to describe food and in some set phrases, while 'bra' means 'good' in a more general sense, and 'fin' usually emphasizes appearance. 

A fin smörgås? Photo: Fredrik Sandberg / TT

It's the same when it comes to the negative words, and the two translations for 'worse' (sämre and värre) often confuse non-natives. Here, the rule is that you use 'värre' to describe something inherently bad, and 'sämre' if the object you're describing is neutral. It sounds impossibly fussy, but after time it becomes second nature.

Prepositions? No problem

Prepositions are the little words like 'on', 'in', and 'from' or '', 'i', and 'från' in Swedish, and while they're usually small words, they can cause big problems since their usage varies from language to language.

For example, if you're asked where your colleague is, a native English speaker might say 'hon är i toaletten' (she is in the toilet) directly translating the usual English phrase. But that will get you some strange looks, since in Swedish it implies she's literally inside the toilet bowl, and the correct phrase is 'på toaletten'. Another preposition problem is the difference between 'i en timme', 'om en timme', and 'på en timme', so if you know when to use each of those, give yourself a pat on the back (that one's got a direct translation: 'en klapp på axeln').

You don't know how you survived without Sweden's ultra-specific vocabulary

Linguists generally think that the language you speak doesn't have an impact on your values, but if you're learning Swedish through living in the country and chatting with locals, your cultural perceptions are bound to change. How did you go so long without a specific word for an unsightly pile of groceries on a supermarket conveyor belt (that's 'varuberg'), not to mention the classics 'fika' and 'lagom'?

And when it snows, you've got no shortage of words to describe the scene outside, whether you're dealing with 'slask', 'pudersnö', 'kramsnö', 'snömos', or the explosive-sounding 'snökanon'. A promising sign that your Swedish skills are soaring is when you start using these words in your native language too, because they just sum up what you want to say so precisely.

That feeling when you know the exact word to describe the type of snow on the ground. Photo: Helena Wahlman/

It’s infiltrated your English

The flipside to the above is that you might find your Swedish instincts taking over a little too much. This might be due to false friends (saying 'under the year' instead of 'during') or translating things too directly (saying food has 'gone out', based on the Swedish verb 'gå ut', instead of 'expired' or 'gone off'). It's the downside of language-learning no-one ever warns you about; the more expertise you gain in one, the more your others deteriorate.

Swearing and oj-ing in Swedish

When you've just stubbed your toe or fallen off your bike, practising Swedish is the last thing on your mind. The words you use in times when emotions are running high are instinctive, so if 'fan' or 'oj!' come out before the equivalent terms in your first language, the chances are good that you're close to mastering Swedish.

Filler words

Along similar lines, the words you use when you're thinking of what to say next are also a giveaway of your language skills. Once you've swapped your 'erm' and 'like' for 'ah' and 'liksom', you'll be sounding Swedish even when you're getting tongue-tied.

Photo: Emelie Asplund/

You’ve picked up the local lingo

There's the Swedish you learn in your textbook and then there's the Swedish you actually use. When you start picking up the local grammatical quirks and dialect words, you know you've made it.

In Skåne, that might mean saying 'påg' and 'tös' instead of 'pojke' and 'flicka', and if it's the birthday of the child in question, you might call them the 'födelsesdagsgris' (literally 'birthday pig', but we promise this is an affectionate term). In Stockholm, you might refer to the main train station (T-Centralen) as TC, the subway as 'tricken' or a taxi as 'en bulle'.

You no longer bat an eyelid when you reach the 'slutstation'

Some would argue this is a measure of maturity rather than language proficiency. The Swedish language has a lot of words that on first glance sound amusing or downright rude to English-speakers: 'fart', 'sex', 'kock', 'bra', and of course the aforementioned 'slutstation'. When you start to wonder why people are giggling at the words 'speed', 'six', 'chef', 'good', and 'final stop', you know that your Swedish is becoming instinctive.

You know when to use 'hans/hennes' and 'sin/sitt/sina'

When it comes to possessives, 'hans', 'hennes', and 'sin/sitt/sina' all mean 'his' or 'hers', but the first two refer to something belonging to the subject of the sentence, while 'sin/sitt/sina' introduce something belonging to the sentence's object.

If that sounds boring, just remember it can be an important difference in a sentence like 'Jonas och Henrik är vänner och Jonas älskar sin fru' ('Jonas and Henrik are friends, and Jonas loves his [own] wife' — good for Jonas) and 'Jonas och Henrik är vänner och Jonas älskar hans fru'. In the second example, Jonas is secretly in love with his good friend Henrik's wife. Oj oj oj oj.

Oh, Jonas. File photo: Wavebreakmedia/Depositphotos

You inhale your yeses

When you first started speaking Swedish, you may have wondered why people seemed so surprised at your most mundane statements. Swedes have a habit of breathing in to signal that they are listening to you (usually written as 'ah'), and the word 'ja' (yes) is also often said on an inhale. If you've noticed yourself or others doing this and want to learn more about why this phenomenon exists, The Local has investigated here.


“There's no cow on the ice”. “If there's room in the heart, there's room for the bottom.” “He always shits in the blue cupboard.” “There's a dog buried here.” Those are the direct English translations of just a few of Sweden's curious idioms, and if you know the meaning behind them, you're doing well. And if not, well, you can find out here.

Was there a moment when you realized you'd cracked the Swedish language? Or are there any areas that still trip you up? Members of The Local can comment below.