Last week, Sweden’s official Twitter account posted about ABBA twice, first breaking the news that the quintessential Swedish pop group has plans to release its first new music in 35 years, and then politely reminding everyone that Agnetha, Björn, Benny, and Anni-Frid are Swedish, not Swiss. That legit felt like Peak Sweden, but then @Swedense dropped a bombshell about one of its other national icons, admitting that Swedish meatballs are... Turkish.
“Swedish meatballs are actually based on a recipe King Charles XII brought home from Turkey in the early 18th century,” the borderline historic tweet read. “Let's stick to the facts!” Sweden didn’t explain why it chose last weekend to reveal that it has spent more than three hundred years hiding this lie underneath a thick lingonberry sauce, but is there really a wrong time to clear your conscience?
According to some devastated Swedes, yes! “My whole life has been a lie,” Örjan Johansson sighed. Meanwhile, one Turkish news outlet called it “a confession,” and another praised the fact that the government finally “admitted” this edible untruth. Sweden’s replies were quickly filled with Turks pointing out that King Carl also appropriated coffee and cabbage rolls, suggesting that the Swedes had even stolen words from Turkey, and promising to forget about the entire thing if they sent Malmö-born soccer superstar Zlatan Ibrahimović to play in Turkey.
But how did Sweden end up with köfte at all? Because Charles XII fucking loved war. (He also abstained from both booze and sex, so a life of seemingly endless military conflict is all that’s left, I guess). By the time he was 24, Charles had already won some impressive battles—including leading a seriously outnumbered Swedish army to victory against Russian troops—but, like most 24-year-olds, he started overestimating his abilities. In 1708, he decided that invading Russia seemed like a good idea.
A year later, he had been severely wounded and a third of his army was dead, so he fled to Moldova, which was then part of the Ottoman Empire. (Since he ditched everyone to save his own ass, the general in charge and many of the remaining Swedish soldiers spent the rest of their lives in Russian captivity).
According to Atlas Obscura, Charles “gained a taste for Ottoman Turk cuisine” during his almost five years in exile. When they politely asked him to go back to Sweden, he seems to have taken coffee beans and the recipes for stuffed cabbage rolls and köfte—a.k.a. Turkish meatballs—with him. (And Charles was shot in the head in 1718 while trying to lead an attack in Norway; no one knows who was responsible, but many scholars believe it was one of his own men).
Back on Twitter, Sweden has been cheerfully responding to many of the people who have either praised or questioned its decision to spill its meatball secret. “Don't be so hard on yourself!” it told one of its heartbroken countrymen. “Time starts now!”
And now we know your secret, Sweden.