Iraqi dishes tracing back to Mesopotamia

Yesterday, one of our colleagues invited us to his house for traditional Iraqi lunch. Iraqi cuisine has developed over the course of a long and rich history. Modern day Iraq is, after all, on the site of ancient Sumer, the “Cradle of Civilisation” founded approximately 5300 BCE.

Since it was a traditional Iraqi cuisine, we decided to have it on the floor in traditional style. We didn’t know what was on the menu and when he brought a large platter, we saw it was “Quzi”. It is a rice based dish popular in Iraq and Levant countries reflecting the generosity and hospitality of Bedouin Arabs. Quzi is served with very slow cooked baby lamb garnished with roasted almonds, nuts, raisins and served over rice. Rice in fact is a staple of the Iraqi diet. Most meals are served with seasoned Basmati rice. Quzi is one of the most grand, entertaining and delicious traditional dishes cooked in Iraq since ages.

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We were later on discussing on other traditional Iraqi dishes like Masgouf and ‘Pache’ (PAH-chay). I have already written on Masgouf earlier (please read: http://wp.me/s10bZs-masgouf).

Pache is considered a delicacy in Iraq, and is also one of their popular traditional delicacies. Pache is celebrated as rare delicacy of the Iraqi cuisine having its origin in early Mesopotamian civilisation. Another charm that adds on to the wacky tinge of this adventure food is that is made with a Sheep’s (or goat’s or lamb’s) head, the stomach and its hooves (cleaned and processed under sanitary measures) boiled slowly, mashed up and served with khubz (flatbread) sunken in hot, watery and oily broth.

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Once, I opted for tasting this delicacy. I am quite adventurous in tasting foods so I went for Pache. This special delicacy could be counted as one of the rare Iraqi delicacies, which could almost terrify anyone else from any other part of the world! If you can skip the notion of eating the head, it’s a must try for all the adventurist folks out there. 🙂

HISTORY

The Iraqi cooking as we know it today largely evolved from the cuisine of the glorious days of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258) when Baghdad was called the navel of the earth. The Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith. Besides the contributions of the native Sumerians, Akkadians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and ancient Persians who lived in what is now Iraq, the nation’s culture and cuisine have been coloured by its neighbours, including modern day Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and to a lesser extent India and Greece. Of these, the Mesopotamian is the oldest and the first documented world cuisine, of which only three Babylonian cuneiform tablets are extant today (housed at the Babylonian Collection of Yale University).

According to Yale Babylonian Collection, the oldest known recipes in the world come from Iraq, and were inscribed on Babylonian tablets going back to ca. 1700 BCE. Archaeologists have found three small clay tablets inscribed with intricate cuneiform signs, although damaged to different degrees, which provide cooking instructions for more than thirty-five Akkadian dishes. The recipes are elaborate and often call for rare ingredients. They represent Mesopotamian haute cuisine meant for the royal palace or the temple and also a fairly accurate picture of the standard Mesopotamian diet.

Instructions call for most of the food to be prepared with water and fats, and to simmer for a long time in a covered pot. Ancient foodies seem to have preferred fowl and mutton. Babylonian chefs had easy access to meat, as Mesopotamian farmers had been raising sheep and chicken since prehistory. Meats included stag, gazelle, kid, lamb, mutton, squab and a bird called tarru (believed to mean fowls). Fish were eaten along with turtles and shellfish. Various grains, vegetables and fruits such as dates, apples, figs, pomegranates and grapes were integral to diet. Roots, bulbs, truffles and mushrooms were harvested for the table. Frequently mentioned seasonings included onions, garlic and leeks, while stews were often thickened with grains, milk, clarified butter, fats, beer or animal blood. Salt was sometimes mentioned. Scholars have not been able to identify all the ingredients.

The use of animal intestines is said to have been perfected by the Sumerians, who are credited with the invention of sausages about 4000 BCE. Babylonians made spicy sausages with minced meat, stuffing the mixture into animal intestines to act as skins in approximately 1500 BCE.

Many kinds of bread are mentioned in the texts from the lowliest barley bread used for workers’ rations to elaborate sweetened and spiced cakes baked in fancy, decorated moulds in palace kitchens. Beer (usually made of fermented barley mush) was the national beverage already in the third millennium BCE, while wine grown in northern Mesopotamia was expensive and only enjoyed by the royal household or the very rich.

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King Ashurbanipal and his queen enjoying a cup of wine in the garden, 7th century BCE. (Source: Yale University Library)

The Mongols introduced the culinary traditions they learned in Baghdad to their new empire in Northern India. To this day, traces of these traditions can still be detected in the Indian cuisines.

16 Thoughts

    1. হ্যাঁ, আমাদের রান্নার স্টাইল আলাদা। শক্ত ঠিক নয়, তবে আজকাল বাঙালী হেঁসেলেও পরিবর্তন হচ্ছে, আমরা কিছু বিদেশী খাবারকে বাঙালী বানিয়ে নিয়েছি যেমন পটলের দোরমা। 🙂 চেষ্টা করে দেখতে পারেন – বঙ্গীয় কুযি।

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Though I am not very experimental when it comes to tasting new delicacies, but Quzi definitely appeals to me, it sounds a lot like Biryani…loved the historical references in the blog 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Piyali. Yes, Quzi is really a tasty dish. You would love it. There is a basic difference in Biryani and Quzi. It’s mainly in the cooking style. Biryani is rice and meat baked together in the oven, while quzi is lamb, grilled or roasted, stuffed, and served on a bed of rice. I am not talking of spices and garnishes, which gives distinct taste and flavour.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the cooking style is called dum (pressure) for biryani. It is cooked in a metal/earthen pot tightly sealed with a thick string of dough. Quzi definitely sounds different than biryani now 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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