Bakso (Indonesian Beef Balls)

Last month I had the pleasure of contributing to Melissa Joulwan’s awesome meatball recipe collection, “March Meatball Madness.” My dish, Bakso, is one of my favorite ways to eat ground meat. Be sure to check out the rest of March Meatball Madness on her blog, The Clothes Make the Girl!

Bakso is an Indonesian beef ball similar to Chinese or Vietnamese beef balls. Like all Asian beef balls, they are dense yet spongy, with a texture similar to fishcake. The key component of this texture is pulverizing the meat into a paste, often described as surimi, wherein its proteins are broken down. I like this spongy texture, and it’s a great alternative to your typical uses for ground beef.

It’s commonly believed that Bakso was first brought to Indonesia by Chinese immigrants. Bakso vendors can be found on most busy Indonesian city streets. Recently, there has been a health stigma against Bakso vendors, since additives such as Borax and MSG are commonly found in the beef balls or broth they’re served in. But in their natural form – as found in this recipe – Bakso is both delicious and healthy. The only modification I made from typical Bakso recipes is that I omitted the bit of sugar that is usually added to the balls to enhance their flavor.

Bakso (Indonesian Beef Balls)

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Beef balls:
1 lb ground beef
1 lb ground pork or chicken
1/4 cup tapioca starch
1 tbsp fish sauce
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp onion powder
1/2 tsp garlic powder
1/2″ grated ginger or galangal (1/4 tsp ground ginger okay)
1/4 cup water

1 cup beef broth
1″ whole ginger or galangal, peeled
1 cinnamon stick
2 black cardamom pods
4 whole cloves
1/2 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 1/2 lime (~1/2 tbsp)
1/2 tsp white pepper
salt to taste (about 2 tsp)

Suggested accompaniments:
1 lb Chinese cabbage (choy sum or kai lan preferred), washed and cut into 2″ lengths
2 carrots, julienned
chopped cilantro to garnish

1. Mix all of the beef ball ingredients together with your hands, then transfer to a food processor. Process the meat until bright pink, finely mixed, and somewhat tacky in texture. Stop the processor every minute and scrape down the sides with a spatula. Transfer the meat paste to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and put in the fridge for at least four hours, or overnight if you’d like.

2. Bring a pot of water (~5 quarts) to boil, then reduce heat until it is gently simmering. Wet your hands, then grab some of the meat in one hand; squeeze the meat through your thumb and index finger, then scoop away the ball with a spoon and gently drop into the water (pictured below). Once the ball starts to float, let it simmer for 2 more minutes then fish it out and place it in a bowl of ice water. Check your first meatball or two to make sure they’re cooked through. Repeat this procedure with all of the meat; it’s easiest if you have someone making the balls while someone else monitors the balls for doneness and fishes them out. Once all of the balls are cooked and in the ice bath, strain and rinse them gently with cold water. At this point, your beef balls are done – enjoy them right away or freeze/refrigerate for later use. If you want to enjoy them immediately, proceed to step 3.

3. Spoon out any fat or chunks from the water you used to boil the beef balls – it’s going to be our soup base. Add the beef broth, ginger/galangal, cinnamon stick, black cardamom pods, and whole cloves. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30 minutes to allow the flavors to marry, then fish out the ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves (alternatively, you could put them in a tea bag or cheesecloth and pull it out). Add the fish sauce, lime juice, white pepper, and add salt to taste.

4. Add the Chinese cabbage and blanch for 30 seconds, then add them to the soup bowls. Do the same with the carrots, but blanch them for only 10 seconds. Add the beef balls to the soup and return to a simmer, then scoop the balls and broth into the individual bowls. Garnish with cilantro and serve.

** Feel free to experiment with the types of meat. Using half beef and half chicken/pork is my favorite, but you can use all beef, all pork, etc. Since Indonesia is a predominately Muslim country, Bakso is commonly made with just beef, or mixed with chicken.

** The accompaniments are just a suggestion – you could add all sorts of things, like rice noodles, zucchini noodles, sweet potato noodles, enoki mushrooms, scallions, fried shallots, or hard-boiled eggs. The possibilities are endless.

Gooey, tacky meat paste = springy, delicious beef balls.

The trick to getting smooth beef balls is to push them through your thumb and index finger, as demonstrated by the prettiest lady in my house.

Make large batches of beef balls so that you can freeze them for quick, weekday meals.

24 thoughts on “Bakso (Indonesian Beef Balls)

  1. I made these for dinner tonight. They were a huge hit. My 12-year-old son said “These are exactly how I like my meatballs- they taste like meat, not lots of other stuff in them.” My daughter asked if I could please not freeze the leftovers so that she could have them for breakfast. These are definitely going on are list of favorites. Thanks for the recipe!


  2. Wouldn’t the amount of water be important to know when you’re making the soup? So the beef broth is not watered down too much, or the opposite, too strong? I would like to know anyway. Thanks!


    1. Cathi, a standard 4-6 qt pot should be fine – most of the flavor comes from boiling the meatballs. I added the cup of broth to add calcium and trace minerals to the meal, not so much for flavor :)


  3. The meatballs seem to be taking a long time to cook. Are you supposed to boil them one at a time? I put several in the water at once so maybe that’s the problem? If not, any thoughts on what I’m doing wrong? It’s taking probably 10 to 15 minutes or more to cook them. Every time I take one out it’s still way pink inside. Thanks!


    1. It sometimes takes us longer to cook them through, I think the pinkness has to do with using ground pork. Several can be boiled at once. If you’re going to freeze them for later, it’d be better to have them pink so that they don’t overcook when re-heating. Hope that helps! How did they taste? The trick is to fine that happy medium between cooking them through and keeping them from falling apart :)


      1. They tasted absolutely amazing!! i love this recipe. I froze some of the raw meat for later and am re-making it today and will see how it goes. The pinkness related to ground pork makes sense so I won’t worry over the pinkness so much this time. Thanks for responding to my post! I really appreciate it!


  4. Your recipe looks very authentic – I’ve been travelling to Bali monthly for the last 6 yrs enjoying Bakso on every visit, however, only recently noted the addition of a spoonful of msg mixed in when serving. This has raised serious concerns regarding how healthy this dish actually is. Looking forward to trying your recipe at home in a more healthier approach . Many thanks


  5. thanks Russ, it is healthy recipe, taste good😊 whole life time i was curious how to make bakso balls, now i make it. thank you😊


  6. Yum Russ! I loved this unexpected way to prepare a flavor soup…but it was amazing! I added an onion and smashed cloves of garlic to the broth, and left the cloves and cardamon out (I am not a huge fan of those flavors). I did all pork and used chicken broth, not beef.


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