Iraqi cuisine

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Masgouf is considered the national dish of Iraq.
Dolma made from grape leaves, courgettes, peppers and aubergine
Biryani with chicken
Iraqi Kubbah made from rice

Iraqi cuisine or Mesopotamian cuisine has a long history going back some 10,000 years – to the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Ancient Persians.[1] Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals – the first cookbooks in the world.[1] Ancient Iraq, or Mesopotamia, was home to a sophisticated and highly advanced civilization, in all fields of knowledge, including the culinary arts.[1] However, it was in the Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) that the Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith.[1] Today, the cuisine of Iraq reflects this rich inheritance as well as strong influences from the culinary traditions of neighbouring Persia, Turkey and the Syria region area.[1]

Meals begin with appetizers and salads – known as Mezza. Salads such as Fattoush and Tabbouleh are common at the start of each meal. Pita bread is often served with Hummus (a spread made from chickpeas blended with tahini and olive oil) or Baba ghanoush (dip of seasoned, baked eggplant). Dolma is a popular mezza of ground meat and rice stuffed in grape leaves with tomato sauce. Mahshi is another popular dolma with ground meat stuffed in cooked courgettes, which originated in Syria. In Mosul, dolma is very popular. In Mosul they include courgettes, tomatoes, onions, peppers and grape leaves. They are occasionally smoked. The most notable appetizers in Iraq include Burek (deep fried egg roll with minced meat), Falafel (fried chickpea patties served with amba and salad in pita), Kubbah (rice patties stuffed with cooked minced meat with onion and sautéed pine nuts), Lahmacun (savory pizza with ground meat, chopped onions and tomato paste) and Turshi (vegetables pickled in garlic and vinegar).

Iraq is home to many Middle Eastern specialties. Dishes such as Kebab (grilled chunks of meat marinated with garlic, lemon and spices) and Shawarma (grilled meat sandwich wrap with lettuce, tomato and onion wrapped in pita) are often marinated on a spit and served with salad over rice or pita. Iraqi cuisine is famous for its extremely tender kebab, either made with ground meat or are made with chunks of meat grilled on a skewer. Masgûf (grilled fish with pepper and tamarind), is considered the national dish of Iraq, and originates back to the days of ancient Mesopotamia. Masgouf often is made of fish from the Tigris river, and it is most common in Baghdad as well as cities along the Tigris.

Most dishes are served with rice, usually basmati. Rice dishes, especially Biryani (basmati rice cooked with peas, almonds, raisins, noodles, fried potatoes and a variety of spices) are very common. It was brought to India by Persian Muslim travellers and merchants, and is collectively popular in Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and among Muslims in Sri Lanka. The most notable meat entrees served over rice are Kabsa (chicken with rice, vegetables, cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg), Maqluba (a rice, lamb, tomato, aubergine and potato casserole) and Quzi (lamb with rice, almonds, raisins and spices).

Stews such as Bamieh (lamb, okra and tomato stew), Loubieh (stew with beef with green beans in tomato sauce), Tashrib (a soup eaten with meat (lamb or chicken), chickpeas and bread), and Tepsi (stew with eggplant, ground meat, potato, tomato sauce) are common. Pacha is a broth made from lamb tripe and stomach. Stews are normally served over rice, which is a common factor of Persian cuisine.[2]

Contemporary Iraq reflects the same natural division as ancient Mesopotamia,[3] which consisted of Assyria in the arid northern uplands and Babylonia in the southern alluvial plain.[3] Al-Jazira (the ancient Assyria) grows wheat and crops requiring winter chill such as apples and stone fruits.[3] Al-Irāq (Iraq proper, the ancient Babylonia) grows rice and barley, citrus fruits, and is responsible for Iraq's position as the world's largest producer of dates.[3]


Archaeologists have found evidence from excavations at Jarmo in northeastern Iraq,[4] that pistachio nuts were a common food as early as 6750 BC.[4]

Among the ancient texts discovered in Iraq is a Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual dictionary,[5] recorded in cuneiform script on 24 stone tablets about 1900 BC.[5] It lists terms in the two ancient Iraqi languages for over 800 different items of food and drink.[5] Included are 20 different kinds of cheese, over 100 varieties of soup and 300 types of bread – each with different ingredients, filling, shape or size.[5]

One of three excavated cuneiform clay tablets written in 1700 BC in Babylon,[2] 50 miles south of present-day Baghdad, deals with 24 recipes for stew cooked with meat and vegetables,[2] enhanced and seasoned with leeks, onion, garlic, and spices and herbs like cassia, cumin, coriander, mint, and dill.[2] Stew has remained a mainstay in the cuisine.[2] Extant medieval Iraqi recipes and modern Iraqi cuisine attest to this.[2]

Iraqi cuisine


Some characteristic ingredients of Iraqi cuisine include:

Other Iraqi culinary essentials include olive oil, sesame oil, tamarind, vermicelli, tahini, honey, date syrup, yogurt and rose water. Lamb is the favorite meat, but chicken, beef and fish are also eaten. Most dishes are served with rice - usually timman anbar, a yellowish, very aromatic, long-grain rice grown in the provinces of Anbar and Qadisiyyah.[6] Bulghur wheat is used in many dishes, having been a staple in the country since the days of the Ancient Assyrians.[1] Flatbread is a staple that is served, with a variety of dips, cheeses, olives, and jams, at every meal.


Dates, apricots, figs, prunes are dried to make dried fruits_

Mezza is a selection of appetizers or small dishes often served with beverage, like anise-flavored liqueurs such as arak, ouzo, raki or different wines, similar to the tapas of Spain or finger food.

Name Description
Fattoush (فتوش) A salad made from several garden vegetables and toasted or fried pieces of pita bread.
Tabbouleh (التبولة) A salad dish, often used as part of a mezze. Its primary ingredients are finely chopped parsley, bulgur, mint, tomato, scallion, and other herbs with lemon juice, olive oil and various seasonings, generally including black pepper and sometimes cinnamon and allspice.
Turshi (مخللات) Pickled vegetables in the cuisine of many Balkan and Middle East countries. It is a traditional appetizer, meze for rakı, ouzo, tsipouro and rakia.


Name Description
Baba ghanoush (بابا غنوج) A dish of baked aubergine mashed and mixed with various seasonings.
Hummus (الحمص) A dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
Jajeek (تزاتزيكي) An appetizer of Ottoman cuisine origin, also used as a sauce for souvlaki and gyros. Tzatziki (known as jajeek in Iraq), is made of strained yogurt (usually sheep's-milk or goat's-milk in Greece and Turkey) with cucumbers, garlic, salt, usually olive oil, pepper, dill, sometimes lemon juice and parsley, or mint added. The cucumbers are either pureed and strained, or seeded and finely diced. Olive oil, olives, and herbs are often used as garnishes.

Soups and stews

Various stews served over rice form a major part of Iraqi cuisine. A feature shared with Iranian cuisine (see Khoresht).

Name Description
Bamieh (بامية) A stew made with okra and lamb or beef cubes and in a tomato sauce.[7]
Harissa (الهريسة) A dish similar to keşkek that is a kind of homogeneous porridge made of previously stewed and boned chicken and coarsely ground soaked wheat.
Kebab (كباب) A dish consisting of grilled or broiled meats on a skewer or stick.[8] The most common kebabs include lamb and beef, although others use chicken or fish.
Lablabi (لبلابي) A soup consisting of boiled chick peas blended with lemon juice, garlic and cumin.
Maqluba (مقلوبة) An upside-down rice and aubergine casserole, hence the name which is literally translated as "upside-down". It is sometimes made with fried cauliflower instead of aubergine and usually includes meat - often braised lamb.[9]
Masgûf (مسكوف) A traditional Mesopotamian dish made with fish from the Tigris.[8][10] It is an open cut freshwater fish roasted for hours after being marinated with olive oil, salt, curcuma and tamarind while keeping the skin on. Traditional garnishes for the masgouf include lime, chopped onions and tomatoes, as well as the clay-oven flatbreads common to Iraq and much of the Middle East.
Pacha (باشا) A broth including sheep brain.[11][12][13][14][15][16]
Quzi (قوزي) Stuffed roasted lamb.[8][10]
Tashrib (نقل) A soup made with either lamb or chicken with or without tomatoes eaten with Iraqi nan. The bread is broken up into pieces and the soup is poured over in a big bowl.
Tepsi (صينية) An Iraqi casserole. The main ingredient of the dish is aubergine, which are sliced and fried before placing in a baking dish, accompanied with chunks of either lamb/beef/veal or meatballs, tomatoes, onions and garlic. On top of the aubergine, potato slices are placed on top of the mixture, and the dish is baked. Like many other Iraqi dishes it is usually served with rice, along with salad and pickles.

Dumplings and meatballs

Name Description
Dolma (دولما) A family of stuffed vegetable dishes. The grape-leaf dolma is common. Zucchini, aubergine, tomato and pepper are commonly used as fillings. The stuffing may or may not include meat.[17]
Falafel (الفلافل) A fried ball or patty made from spiced chickpeas or fava beans. Originally from Egypt, falafel is a form of fast food in the Middle East, where it is also served as a mezze.
Kubbah (كبة) A dish made of rice, chopped meat, and spices. The best-known variety is a torpedo-shaped burghul shell stuffed with chopped meat and fried. Other varieties are baked, poached, or even served raw as famously done by the Lebanese. They may be shaped into balls, patties, or flat.[18]
Kofta (كفتة) A family of meatball or meatloaf dishes in Middle Eastern, Indian, and Balkan cuisines. In the simplest form, koftas consist of balls of minced or ground meat — usually beef or lamb — mixed with spices or onions. Vegetarian varieties include lauki kofta, shahi aloo kofta, and malai kofta.

Processed meat

Name Description
Pastırma (بسطرمة) A highly seasoned, air-dried cured beef in the cuisines of the former Ottoman countries.
Sujuk (تملق) A dry, spicy sausage eaten from the Balkans to the Middle East and Central Asia.

Rice dishes

Long-grain rice is a staple in Iraqi cookery.[8][10] The Iraqi word for rice, timman, is unique to Iraq and is of Akkadian origin.

Iraqi rice cooking is similar to the method used for Persian chelow,[6] a multistep process intended to produce just-tender, fluffy grains.[6] A prominent aspect of Iraqi rice cooking is the hkaka, a crisp bottom crust.[6] It differs slightly from the Persian tahdig, which is a single thick piece; the hkaka contains some loose rice as well.[6] Before serving, the hkaka is broken into pieces so that everyone is provided with some along with the fluffy rice.[6]

Name Description
Biryani (البرياني) A set of rice-based foods made with spices, rice (usually basmati), and meat/vegetables. It was brought to India by Persian Muslim travellers and merchants, and is collectively popular in Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India and among Muslims in Sri Lanka.
Dolma (دولما) The mixture of ground lamb or beef with rice is usually made with many fillings in the same preparing pot, as well as pomegranate juice, prominently used by North Iraqis to give it a unique taste. The Assyrians of Iraq may either call it dolma or yaprekh which is the Syriac term for stuffed grape leaves. Iraqi Arabs usually served dolma without yoghurt. Often chicken or beef ribs are added to the cooking pot, and sometimes served with the dolma instead of masta or khalwah. Iraqi dolma is usually cooked and served in a tomato-based sauce. In Mosul, dolma is very popular. In Mosul they include courgettes, tomatoes, onions, peppers and grape leaves. They are occasionally smoked.
Mahshi (محشي) Stuffed courgettes with ground meat and rice in a tomato-based sauce.
Quzi (قوزي) A rice-based dish served with very slow-cooked lamb and roasted nuts and raisins.


Name Description
Baladi cheese a soft, white cheese originating from the Middle East. It has a mild yet rich flavor.
Jameed hard dry laban (yogurt) made from sheep's milk.
Jibneh Arabieh a simple cheese found all over the Middle East. It is particularly popular in the Persian Gulf area. The cheese has an open texture and a mild taste similar to Feta but less salty.
Geimar a creamy dairy product, similar to clotted cream, made in the Balkans, Turkey, Iran, other Middle Eastern nations, and Central Asia. It is made from the milk of water buffalos in the East or of cows in the West.
Labaneh (اللبنة) yogurt made from milk and strained to remove its whey.

Breads and pastries

Lahm b'ajeen, garnished with parsley, tomato, red onion, and a wedge of lemon
Name Description
Burek (بوريك) A type of baked or fried filled pastry. It is made of a thin flaky dough known as phyllo dough (or yufka dough), and are filled with salty cheese (often feta), minced meat, potatoes or other vegetables.
Lahmacun (لحم عجين) A thin pizza topped with minced meat and herbs.
Laffa (خبز طابون) A popular Middle Eastern flatbread. Also known as taboon.
Lavash (خبز) A soft, thin flatbread.
Markook (مرقوق، شراك) A type of flatbread common in the countries of the Levant. It is baked on a domed or convex metal griddle, known as Saj. It is usually sizable, about 2 feet, and thin, almost transparent.
Nan (النان) A type of leavened bread, typically of teardrop shape and traditionally cooked in a clay oven.
Pita (بيتا) A soft, slightly leavened flatbread baked from wheat flour that originated in the Near East, most probably Mesopotamia around 2500 BC.
Samoon (ساموا) A flat and round bread, similar in texture and taste to the Italian ciabatta.[10]
Shawarma (الشاورما) A Middle Eastern Arabic-style sandwich-like wrap[8] usually composed of shaved lamb, goat, chicken, turkey, beef, or a mixture of meats. Shawarma is a popular dish and fast-food staple across the Middle East and North Africa.

Condiments, sauces and spices

Name Description
Amba (عمبة) a tangy mango pickle condiment. Commonly eaten as a side dish and sometimes as a sandwich topping.
Baharat (توابل) a spice mixture. Typical ingredients include: allspice, black pepper corns, cardamom seeds, cassia bark, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, nutmeg, dried red chili peppers or paprika.
Tahini (t'heena) (طحينة) a paste of ground sesame seeds used in cooking. Middle Eastern tahini is made of hulled, lightly roasted seeds.
Za'atar (الزعتر) a mixture of herbs and spices used as a condiment.


A typical Iraqi Kleicha, a national Iraqi cookie.
Kinafa, a sweet made with vermicelli, sugar syrup and rose water
Name Description
Baklava (البقلاوة) a rich pastry[10] made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.
Halva (نصف) a Middle Eastern confection made of sesame flour and honey.
Kanafeh (كنافة) a pastry made with layers of semolina, white cheese and a sugary syrup sprinkled with rose water.
Kleicha (الكليچة) a national cookie of Iraq. Kleicha comes in several traditional shapes and fillings, the most popular being the molded ones filled with dates (kleichat tamur). The sweet discs (khfefiyyat) are also favoured along with the half moons filled with nuts and sugar (kleichat joz).


Name Description
Arak (عرق) A clear, colourless, unsweetened aniseed-flavoured distilled alcoholic drink. Arak is usually not drunk straight, but is mixed in approximately 1/3 arak to 2/3 water, and ice is then added.
Shinēna (شنينة) A cold beverage of yogurt mixed with cold water, sometimes with a pinch of salt or dried mint added.
Tea (شاي) Also known as Chai, is widely consumed throughout the day, especially in the mornings, after meals, and during social settings. It is prepared in a special way involving boiling tea in hot water, then placing it over a second tea pot with boiling water to let the tea infuse. Iraqi tea is renowned for being considerably weaker, richer and sweeter than those found in neighbouring countries, and is usually brewed with cardamom (heil).

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "Foods of Iraq: Enshrined With A Long History". 2006-04-01. Retrieved 2016-01-08.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Albala, Ken (2011). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-313-37627-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Davidson, Alan; Jaine, Tom (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-19-280681-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 "History and Agriculture of the Pistachio Nut". IRECO. Retrieved 27 February 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Lawton, John. "Mesopotamian Menus". Saudi Aramco World, March/April 1988. Saudi Aramco. Retrieved 30 March 2012.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 6.5 Marks, Gil (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons. p. 585. ISBN 978-0-470-39130-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Fair, (2008) p.72
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 ʻAlī Akbar Mahdī, (2003) p.40 -41
  9. Jacob (2007) p.4
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2003) Iraq in Pictures, Twenty-First Century Books, p.55, ISBN 0-8225-0934-2
  11. "Food in Iraq - Iraqi Cuisine - popular, dishes, diet, common meals, customs". 2001-04-06. Retrieved 2010-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Assyrian Restuarant (Sic) in Chicago Reminds Iraqis of Home". 2005-08-28. Retrieved 2010-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. "Little Shedrak's Pacha (Lamb's Head) - Chicago Area - Chowhound". Retrieved 2010-03-14.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. David Finkel (15 September 2009). The Good Soldiers. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 55–. ISBN 978-1-4299-5271-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. John Martinkus (2004). Travels in American Iraq. Black Inc. pp. 29–. ISBN 978-1-86395-285-9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Peggy Faw Gish (12 February 2015). Iraq. Wipf and Stock Publishers. pp. 212–. ISBN 978-1-4982-1763-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Fair, (2008), p.71
  18. Jacob (2007) p.2


External links