Yesterday, when we went for our lunch at a restaurant, we decided to have quzi. Quzi is a delicious dish and I love it very much. Whenever you take seat at any restaurant in Baghdad, they will first serve you with soup and a large selection of salads and plentiful amounts of breads. Then they take orders for the meal. These soup, salads and breads accompany every meal in Iraq.
Quzi or qoozi is considered one of Iraq’s national dishes. Quzi reflects the generosity and hospitality of Bedouins. In Iraqi cuisine, it is usually prepared by stuffing the whole lamb with rice, vegetables, spices and nuts and slow cooking it over a closed or submerged oven. In some places in the Middle East it is buried in a pit containing burning coal or charcoal to get the smoky flavour.
The famous Iraqi Quzi is served on a bed of rice richly embellished with fried nuts. I have seen roasted whole lambs on mountains of rice with the smells of cardamom, cinnamon and toasted almonds in a few Iraqi wedding and Eid parties that I attended in Iraq. This is one of the most grand, entertaining and delicious dishes cooked in Iraq.
We relished the spiced rice, succulent meat along with white beans stew, that was served along with Quzi. It was a sumptuous lunch.
After our grand meal, we had two istikans of Iraqi tea: Chai Istikan. Tea is mostly drunk black in Iraq — dark and strong when brewed, with lots of sugar. The kettle with the tea is placed over another kettle with vigorously boiling water. This indirect heat method to brew the tea ensures that you do not boil the tea at any point, thus avoiding the bitterness. If you find the tea too dark or bitter, you can fill the istikan half-way and top with plain boiled water.
There is a story that the word ‘Istikan’ originated from the time when the British colonised Iraq; they used to refer to the small cups that they used to drink tea as “East-Tea-Can” — referring to a can of tea imported from the East (India, Sri Lanka). The British army took these glasses as souvenirs and used that reference to distinguish them from their large tea cups. So this developed into the famous ‘Istikan’. Embedded in the Arabic culture, these tea glasses are unique for the simple handle-less shape with a diversity of colours and patterns on them. The design of the drinking vessel is coming down through 3,000 years. The design resembles a ceramic drinking vessel found at Nimrud (ancient Kalhu), Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) belonging to the Neo-Assyrian period (ca. 9th–7th century BCE) and being displayed at the Metropolitan museum in New York.