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Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف
Carp Masgûf slowly roasting on the wood embers
Place of origin Southern Mesopotamia (Modern day Iraq)
Region or state Baghdad and along the Tigris River
Creator(s) Sumerian-Babylonian[1][2]
Course served Main course
Serving temperature Hot
Main ingredient(s) Large freshwater carps and barbs from the Tigris-Euphrates Basin[3]
Variations Northern Iraqi variation, in a clay oven

Semeç Masgûf (Iraqi Arabic: سمچ مسگوف'), or simply "Masgûf", is a traditional Mesopotamian dish, consisting of seasoned, grilled carp. It is de facto considered the national dish of Iraq.

Geographical Distribution

The Iraqi capital city Baghdad prides itself of making the best of the Masgûf, with its famous Ebû Newâs district on the shores of the Tigris river, "dedicated" to this dish, with more than two dozen fish restaurants.[4] Nonetheless, one can find the Masgûf all over Iraq, from North to South, especially in the regions near the Tigris-Euphrates Basin.

Outside of Iraq, the Masgûf is more or less popular in the Jazīra as in the rural parts of Syria, especially in the regions bordering Iraq, such as in the Raqqa Governorate, (crossed by the Euphrates). It is also seen, at a lesser scale, in the Jazīra areas located in Turkey, such as Nusaybin and Cizre, on the Iraqi border.

On a slightly larger scale, Masgûf can now be enjoyed in Damascus due to a high number of Iraqis living there as a diaspora, that immigrated after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[5] In the district of Jeremana alone, where dwell most of the Iraqis, more than ten Masgûf restaurants, staffed exclusively by an Iraqi personnel have been opened in a row. The fish is brought daily from the Syrian Euphrates to these restaurants, and is kept alive in a fishpond or a big aquarium until it is ordered by a customer for serving.

Preparation and Serving

Live carps waiting for their fate

Preparation and serving is usually done using several methods. The fish is caught alive and weighed; the fish is weighed to ensure the correct quantity to satisfy the customers correct. If agreed on, the chosen fish is clubbed to kill it, after which it is split lengthwise down the belly, cleaned and spread out into a single flat piece. It is then partially scaled, gutted and cut in two identical halves from the belly up while leaving the back intact, opening the fish in the shape of a large, symmetrical circle. From there, the master cook generously bastes the marinade on the inside of the fish with a brush. Note that the aforementioned marinade is made from a mixture of olive oil, rock salt, tamarind, and ground turmeric. Depending on the way the person prefer the process of how the Masgouf is cooked there is a recipe which people can use and then make slight changes to their satisfaction. The ingredients are as follows:

•2 lbs. fillet white fish Vegetable oil 1 lg. tomato, diced 1 med. onion, diced 1 c. celery, diced 2 cloves garlic, minced Parsley sprigs 1 tbsp. curry powder 1 tbsp. white vinegar 1/2-1 tsp. salt (to taste) 1/8-1/4 tsp. pepper (to taste) 2 tbsp. lemon juice The Masgouf recipe is very detailed and should be prepared with care. The steps into making Masgouf fish require special attention to the amount proportion to insure a delicious dish. To achieve a delicious dish, brush the fish with mild extra virgin olive oil and season with salt. After, collect a large shallow dish which can be used to place the whole fish or fillets, skin side up to allow easier method when turning over. Once the above is completed, place the fish under the preheated broiler and allow it to cook for 6–8 minutes, until the skin is crisp. For the final preparations sprinkle the fish with the juice of 1 lemon and cover with a layer of diced ripe firm tomatoes–about 4 or 5. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and continue to cook under the broiler until the tomatoes are hot and the fish is done. Finally, serve with pickled cucumbers or mango chutney. References:

Note that the aforementioned marinade is exclusively made by a variable mixture of olive oil, rock salt, tamarind and ground turmeric.

Following the marination process, the fish is either impaled on two sharp piles of wood, or placed in a big cast iron grill with a handle and a locking snare, designed specifically for that duty.[6]

The locking grills made of cast iron

The next step is the most delicate one, since the fish, together with the grill or the piles, is placed near the fire of the fire altar, a common feature shared by all Masgûf restaurants. The said "altar" typically consists of a big open-air area centered by a raised, podium-like sandbox that is either round, octagonal or sometimes rectangular and in the middle of which there's always a rather large bonfire, consisting exclusively of apricot tree logs.

The cooking typically takes between one and three hours depending on the size of the fish, until most of the fish's fat is burnt out (as the carps are typically fatty), time during which the guests will pick at their mezes.

Masgûf served on a tray

When the fish is well cooked and crispy on the outsides, it is typically laid on a big tray garnished with lime (or lemon), slices of onion and Iraqi pickles. Sometimes, in Baghdad, a little bit of a mango chutney is also spread on the inside. The tray is then covered by a large crispy flatbread straight of a clay oven to keep the contents hot until served to the client.[7]


Masgûf roasting in a clay oven

The Turkmens of Northern Iraq prepare exactly the same recipe, with the only difference of using a clay oven. The end result is more or less the same, being just a little faster.

See also


The Masgûf arguably being the most famous dish of Iraq, it is also the one that is always the foremost served to foreign delegations visiting the country by the Iraqi statesmen. Two notable admirers of this dish are said to be the former President of France, Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the former chairman of the Russian Duma.[8] Chirac apparently fell for the Masgûf during a visit to Iraq in a formal dinner given to his honor by Saddam Hussein.


  1. Food of Iraq: Enshrined With A Long History
  2. "Delights from the Garden of Eden, A History of the Iraqi Cuisine". Retrieved 2010-12-15.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Masgouf:From Mesopotamia to Manhattan
  4. Beeston, Richard (27 June 2007). "Imams put fatwa on carp caught in Tigris". The Times. London.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. "أسعار العقارات في جرمانا تتحدى الإنحدار .. والجمود لم " ("Real estate prices in Jaramana challenge Downgrade ..") De Press - Buildex Online 19 March 2009, in Arabic, last accessed 18 September 2010
  6. Masgouf :Prepare fish like they did along the Tigris
  7. Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2003) Iraq in Pictures, Twenty-First Century Books, p.55, ISBN 0-8225-0934-2
  8. "Fish chef nostalgic about Iraq's glory past".<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>