Masgouf: Grilled fish from Mesopotamia

The world cannot overlook Iraq as a home to ancient recipes still being used today to bring people together. At the top of the list of Iraq’s finest meals is masgouf, a Mesopotamian meal consisting of grilled carp. Originating in the basin of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, Masgouf has been around since the Babylonian times.

Today, I was treated with Masgouf. It is a traditional dish dating back to Abbasid period. It is de facto considered the national dish of Iraq. Baghdad prides itself of making the best of the Masgouf.

Carp fish are being grilled

Cooking of Masgouf takes long time sometimes more than 2 hours depending upon the size of the fish. Generally when ordered, the carp fish is taken out of the water tank and killed by a quick blow onto the forehead with a small rod. It is then partially scaled, slit up the back, cleaned the guts out and flattened the bodies. After sprinkling sea salt onto the fish, it is carried over to a fire pit and propped on their sides against iron stakes plunged into the ash to roast against the flames.

Cooking of Masgouf

By roasting the fish vertically with the open side facing the fire, the oil seeps into the ashes, leaving salted, seasoned fish meat. The fish is cooked until most of the fish’s fat is burnt out, as the carps are typically fatty. The fish is then served on a big tray garnished with lime, slices of onion and pickles after covering them by large khubz — flatbread to keep the fish hot. It’s really very tasty … Yummy!

Masgouf — now ready to eat

Masgouf is mentioned in a tenth-century cookbook, Kitab Al-Tabih (The Book of Dishes) compiled by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq. This is the earliest known Arabic cookbook. It contains over 600 recipes. Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi, half-brother of the Caliph Harun al-Rashid said:

On a hot summer day, the cook brought us a dish of shabbut (carp). He brought it in looking like the sun, a radiant delight, redolent with aloe wood, musk, and amber.

Masgouf is one of those unique, exotic foods you just have to try in Baghdad. It may not be the most spectacular fish I’ve eaten over the decades, but it’s definitely an experience that I’d recommend to anyone visiting the city. I am loving it. 🙂

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