Little Italy


The Sacred Meatball: An Ancient Chinese Secret

The Sacred Meatball: An Ancient Chinese Secret

mount taishan

The Sacred Meatball’s Historic Roots. Mount Taishan. One of China’s Five Sacred Mountains.

The Sacred Meatball: Pious, Joyous
…and Confucius?

The sacred meatball. The origin of this simple recipe starts from one of the most sacred places on earth. Although Italy is often praised for creating our most cherished dishes, proper credit must go to ancient China for introducing meatballs to generations of families in different cultures throughout the world.

The sacred meatball’s humble beginning dates back to the Qin Dynasty over 3,000 years ago in Shandong province, home to China’s most sacred mountain – Mount TaishanShandong cuisine, or ‘Lu’ cuisine as it more commonly known in China, is widely considered to be the foundation of Chinese cuisine. (Shandong was a territory of Lu from 770-221 BC.)

Chinese teacher and philosopher Confucius was born in Lu during the Qin Dynasty. His book of proverbs or Analects has been studied in China for the last 2,000 years and continues to be widely used as a source of inspirational quotes.

“Do not consume food which looks spoiled, smells spoiled, is out of season, is improperly butchered, or is not made with its proper seasoning.” –Confucius


The Sacred Meatball and Mount Taishan:
More Than ‘Meats’ The Eye

According to Taoism, there are the Five Sacred Mountains: Taishan, Huashan, Hengshan (Shanxi), Hengshan (Hunan), and Songshan. What makes Mount Taishan the most revered of the five sacred mountains? According to UNESCO and WHC (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and World Heritage Conservation), Mount Taishan has:

• 12 historically recorded imperial ceremonies in homage to Heaven and Earth
• 1,800 stone tablets and inscriptions
• 22 temples

For more information on Taoism, the Wikipedia is a good starting point.


Four Joy Meatballs: Four Joyful Stages of Life

Chinese culture is steeped in symbolism and the 3,000-year-old ‘Four Joy Meatballs‘ recipe is a testament to that tradition. For starters, the round shape of the meatball symbolizes a ‘gathering.’ And the four joys? Those four, carefully crafted balls of meat symbolize the four stages of life that are traditionally marked by four family gatherings:

1. Courtship
2. Marriage
3. Child Rearing
4. Aging

*In keeping with the ‘Four Stages of Life,’ Hinduism’s ‘Four Stages of Man’ is more of an independent journey of growth: The Student Stage, The Householder Stage, The Hermit Stage, and The Wandering Ascetic Stage. 

Meatballs Made with Reindeer Meat? 

In Finland, meatballs are sometimes made with ground reindeer meat, mixed with bread crumbs soaked in milk and finely chopped onions.  People over in the United Kingdom favor a type of spicy pork meatball called a faggot, traditionally made from pig’s heart, liver and fatty belly meat.

In Japan, something called the ‘tsukune’ is a minced chicken meatball served on a skewer. In Mexico, you’ll find meatballs served in a soup with a light broth and vegetables.

Meatballs and Spaghetti:
Is Nothing Sacred? 

In the United States, meatballs are a popular family favorite and commonly served with spaghetti. So it’s not a traditional Italian dish, but it is one that can be accredited to the waves of Italian immigrants who were coming from places like Naples and Sicily, and moving to cities across America — like New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco.

According to the National Restaurant Association, Italian food is one of the top three cuisines in the United States. Care to guess what the other top two are? (Answer: Mexican and Chinese)

Four Joy Meatballs: The First Meatball Recipe


500g ground pork
1 egg
3 tbsp. soy sauce
2 tbsps. cooking wine
1 tsp minced ginger
50ml cornstarch solution
1 tsp finely chopped spring onion
80ml water
800ml oil
1 tsp salt

Cooking Instructions:

1. Add the chopped spring onion, ginger, 1 tbsp soy sauce, salt, egg and 2 tbsp cornstarch solution to the pork and mix until the pork becomes sticky.
2. Divide the pork mixture into four pieces and knead them into medium-sized balls. Gently place the balls in hot oil and fry until their color changes. Remove and drain.
3. Place the fried balls in a large bowl and add the remaining soy sauce, cooking wine and the water. Steam over high heat for 15 minutes.
4. Place the balls on a plate. Add the remaining cornstarch to the sauce to thicken. Bring to the boil and then pour the sauce over the meatballs. Garnish the plate any way you like.
*Four Joy Meatballs Recipe Credit: Hongxia*

Now that you know meatballs are so symbolic, sacred (and so tasty!) do you think you’ll make meatballs for your family?
Let us know what your favorite meatball recipe is… we’d love to share your story. 


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