Iraqi cuisine

Iraqi cuisine (Arabic: المطبخ العراقي) has a long history going back some 10,000 years to the Sumerians, Babylonians, Assyrians, and Ancient Persians and Arabs.[1][2] 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 Iranian cuisine, Syrian cuisine and Turkish cuisine.[1]

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 from 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,[6] 50 miles south of present-day Baghdad, deals with 24 recipes for stew cooked with meat and vegetables,[6] enhanced and seasoned with leeks, onion, garlic, and spices and herbs like cassia, cumin, coriander, mint, and dill.[6] Stew has remained a mainstay in the cuisine.[6] Extant medieval Iraqi recipes and modern Iraqi cuisine attest to this.[6]

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.[7] 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.

Main dishes

Biryani with chicken
Iraqi Kebab
Masgouf is an open-cut fish garnished with chopped onions and tomatoes. It is considered the national dish of Iraq.

Meals begin with appetizers and salads known as Mezza. Some dishes include Kebab (often marinated with garlic, lemon and spices, then grilled), Gauss (grilled meat sandwich wrap, similar to Döner kebab), Bamieh (lamb, okra and tomato stew), Quzi (lamb with rice, almonds, raisins and spices), Falafel (fried chickpea patties served with amba and salad in pita), Kubbah (minced meat ground with bulghur wheat or rice and spices), Masgûf (grilled fish with pepper and tamarind), and Maqluba (a rice, lamb, tomato and aubergine dish). Stuffed vegetable dishes such as Dolma and Mahshi are also popular.[6]

Various stews served over rice form a major part of Iraqi cuisine. A feature shared with Iranian cuisine (see Khoresht). Long-grain rice is a staple in Iraqi cookery.[8][9] The Iraqi word for rice, timman, is unique to Iraq and is of Akkadian origin.

Name Description
Bamia (بامية) A stew made with okra and lamb or beef cubes and in a tomato sauce.[10]
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) A family of stuffed vegetable dishes. The grape-leaf dolma is common. Courgette, aubergine, tomato and pepper are commonly used as fillings. The stuffing may or may not include meat.[11]
Fasoulia (فاصوليا) A soup of dry white beans, olive oil, and vegetables.
Hikakeh (حققا) A multistep process intended to produce tender, fluffy grains of rice.,[7] similar to the method used for Persian chelow,.[7] It differs slightly from the Persian tahdig, which is a single thick piece; the hikakeh contains some loose rice as well.[7] Before serving, the hikakeh is broken into pieces so that everyone is provided with some along with the fluffy rice.[7]
Kabsa (كبسة) A dish made with mutton, chicken, or fish accompanied over fragrant rice that has been cooked in chicken/mutton well spiced broth.[12]
Kebab (كباب) A dish consisting of grilled or broiled meats on a skewer or stick.[8] The most common kebabs include ground lamb and beef, although others use chicken or fish.
Mansaf (منسف) A traditional Levantine dish made of lamb cooked in a sauce of fermented dried yogurt and served with rice or bulgur.[13]
Maqluba (مقلوبة) An upside-down rice and aubergine casserole, which is literally translated as "upside-down". It is sometimes made with fried cauliflower instead of aubergine and usually includes meat or braised lamb.[14]
Masgouf (مسكوف) A traditional Mesopotamian dish made with fish from the Tigris.[8][9] 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.
Mujaddara (مجدرة) A dish consists of cooked lentils together with wheat or rice, garnished with onions that have been sauteed in vegetable oil.
Pacha (باشا) A broth including sheep brain.[15]
Qeema (قیمه) A minced meat, tomato and chickpea stew, served with rice. Traditionally prepared at the annual Ashura commemorations in southern Iraq. The name qeema is an ancient Akkadian word meaning 'finely chopped'.[16]
Quzi (قوزي) A rice-based dish served with very slow-cooked lamb and roasted nuts and raisins.
Shish taouk (شيش طاووق) Chicken shish kebab marinated in lemon juice and served with salad and grilled skewered vegetables.
Tashrib (تشريب) 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 it in a big bowl.
Tepsi (التبسي) 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.


Dates, apricots, figs, prunes are dried to make dried fruits_
Hummus, with olive oil and pine nuts
Iraqi Kubba made from rice

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. Pickles and salad are common accompaniments to large plates in Iraqi cuisine.

Name Description
Arab salad (سلطة عربية) A variety of salad dishes that comprise Arab cuisine. It can be served as a mezze or as an accompaniment to main dishes.
Baba ghanoush (بابا غنوج) A dish of baked aubergine mashed and mixed with various seasonings.
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 filled with salty cheese (often feta), minced meat, potatoes or other vegetables.
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.
Fattoush (فتوش) A salad made from several garden vegetables and toasted or fried pieces of pita bread.
Hummus (الحمص) A dip or spread made from cooked, mashed chickpeas, blended with tahini, olive oil, lemon juice, salt and garlic.
Jajeek (جاجيك) A yogurt-based appetizer with diced cucumbers, garlic and salt, including olive oil, pepper, dill, lemon juice and mint.
Kubba (كبة) A dish made of rice, chopped meat, and spices. The best-known variety is a football-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.[17]
Kubba Mosul (كبة الموصل) A variation on the Iraqi kubba, consisting of minced lamb, onions and parsley under a bulgur crust, shaped like a large disc.
Labneh (اللبنة) Yogurt made from milk and strained to remove its whey.
Manakish (مناقيش) A pizza consisting of dough topped with thyme, cheese, or ground meat.
Pickled vegetables (خضروات مخللة) A Middle Eastern specialty which carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, onions and/or turnips are placed in a glass container of vinegar for 30 days, commonly eaten as a mezze or as a side dish.
Samosa (ساموسا) A triangular savory pastry fried in ghee or oil, containing spiced vegetables or meat.
Shishbarak (ششبرك) A type of Arab dumpling consisting of ground beef and spices stuffed in a wheat dough which is cooked yogurt and topped with hot sauce.
Sfiha (صفيحة) A pizza-like dish traditionally made with ground mutton rather than the more modern addition of lamb, or beef in Brazil. They are "open faced" meat pies with no top dough. Sfiha were much like dolma; simply ground lamb, lightly spiced, wrapped in brined grape leaves.
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.
Za'atar (الزعتر) A mixture of herbs and spices used as a condiment.


Name Description
Arab salad (سلطة عربية) A variety of salad dishes that form part of Arab cuisine.
Fattoush (فتوش) A Levantine salad consisting of diced cucumbers, onions, radishes and tomatoes together with pieces of fried or toasted pita bread.
Tabbouleh (تبولة) A popular Middle Eastern salad of bulgur mixed with finely chopped parsley, along with onions and tomatoes.


Name Description
Abgoosht (آبگوشت) A hearty soup prepared with chickpeas, meat, and vegetables simmered with a mixture of spices. It is commonly served with a side of flatbread to absorb the broth.
Lablabi (لبلبي) Boiled chickpeas with lemon juice blended with cumin and garlic.
Lentil soup (شوربة العدس) Brown, green or red lentils prepared with or without meat in a spiced broth with vegetables such as carrots, onion, parsley or potato.

Processed meat

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


Name Description
Manakish (مناقيش) A pizza-like flatbread topped with minced meat and/or herbs.
Sfiha (صفيحة) An open-faced meat pie topped with minced lamb and red peppers.
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.


Name Description
Baladi cheese (الجبن البلدي) A soft, white cheese originating from the Middle East. It has a mild yet rich flavor.
Geimar (غيمار) 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.
Jameed (الجميد) Hard dry laban (yogurt) made from sheep's milk.
Jibneh Arabieh (جبنة عربية) 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.
Labneh (اللبنة) Yogurt made from milk and strained to remove its whey.


Lahm b'ajeen, garnished with parsley, tomato, red onion, and a wedge of lemon
Name Description
Ka'ak (كعك) Refers to several different types of baked goods produced throughout the Arab world and the Near East.
Khubz (خبز) An Arabic flatbread that is part of the local diet in many countries of Western Asia.
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 (لفسح) A soft, thin, unleavened flatbread.
Markook (مرقوق) 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 two feet, and thin, almost transparent.
Naan (النان) A leavened, oven-baked flatbread[18] found in the cuisines of West, Central and South Asia.[19][20][21]
Pita (بيتا) A soft, slightly leavened flatbread baked from wheat flour that originated in the Near East, most probably Mesopotamia around 2500 BC.
Samoon (صمون) A flat and round bread, similar in texture and taste to the Italian ciabatta.[9]

Condiments, sauces and spices

Iraqi cuisine is very well-known for utilizing various spices in preparation of their dishes. While spice mixtures such as advieh or baharat are used in preparation of their meals, others are used as condiments as an accompaniment to a mezza or sometimes larger meals.

Name Description
Amba (عمبة) A tangy mango pickle condiment. Commonly eaten as a side dish and sometimes as a sandwich topping.
Advieh (ادویه) A spice mixture containing cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, ginger and turmeric; commonly used in dishes containing meat, rice or vegetables.
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.
Dibis (رُب) A thick, very sweet date syrup. Often mixed with tahini to create a dip.
Jallab (جلاب) A type of syrup popular in the Middle East made from dates, grape molasses and rose water.
Sumac (السماق) A Middle Eastern spice originating from the flowering plant of the same name. It can be used as a garnish for kebabs, rice or salads as well as for various meze dishes.
Tahini (t'heena) (طحينة) A paste of ground sesame seeds used in cooking. Middle Eastern tahini is made of hulled, lightly roasted seeds.
Toum (التوم) A garlic-based sauce which also contains lemon juice, olive oil and salt.


A typical Iraqi Kleicha, a national Iraqi cookie.
Kanafeh, a sweet made with vermicelli, sugar syrup and rose water
Name Description
Baklava (البقلاوة) A rich pastry[9] made of layers of phyllo dough filled with chopped nuts and sweetened with syrup or honey.
Daheen (دهين) A fudgelike dessert originating from the city of Najaf prepared with date syrup, flour, milk, and sugar and sprinkled with coconut.
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) The 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).
Qatayef (قطايف) An Arab dessert reserved for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan, a sort of sweet crepe filled with cheese or nuts. It was traditionally prepared by street vendors as well as households in the Levant and more recently has spread to Egypt.
Zulbia (زلابية) A weblike pastry made from a yogurt and starch-based dough, which is fried before being dipped in syrup.


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.
Beer (بيرة) An alcoholic drink made from yeast flavored with hops which originated in Mesopotamia as far back as the 30th century BC.
Coffee (قهوة) A brewed drink made from roasted coffee beans, which gives off a strong and bitter taste.
Shinena (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 by 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).
Turkish coffee (قهوة تركية) A method of preparing unfiltered coffee.[22][23] Roasted and then finely ground coffee beans are simmered (not boiled) in a pot (cezve), optionally with sugar, and served in a cup where the grounds are allowed to settle.

See also


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Foods of Iraq: Enshrined With A Long History". 2006-04-01. Retrieved 2016-01-08.
  2. Nazima's Memoirs and Cuisine. Rivka Goldman. Page 6. Friesen press. 2011.
  3. 1 2 3 4 Davidson, Alan; Jaine, Tom (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-19-280681-9.
  4. 1 2 "History and Agriculture of the Pistachio Nut". IRECO. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  5. 1 2 3 4 Lawton, John. "Mesopotamian Menus". Saudi Aramco World, March/April 1988. Saudi Aramco. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Albala, Ken (2011). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-313-37627-6.
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Marks, Gil (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons. p. 585. ISBN 978-0-470-39130-3.
  8. 1 2 3 4 ʻAlī Akbar Mahdī, (2003) p.40 -41
  9. 1 2 3 4 Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2003) Iraq in Pictures, Twenty-First Century Books, p.55, ISBN 0-8225-0934-2
  10. Fair, (2008) p.72
  11. Fair, (2008), p.71
  12. Riolo, 2007, p.23 - 24
  13. "Jordanian cuisine". 2010-02-04. Retrieved 2016-04-19.
  14. Jacob (2007) p.4
  15. "Food in Iraq - Iraqi Cuisine - popular, dishes, diet, common meals, customs". 2001-04-06. Retrieved 2010-03-14.
  16. Nasrallah, Nawal (2003). Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine. 1stBooks. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-4033-4793-0.
  17. Jacob (2007) p.2
  18. id=FZBZXBCWgxgC&pg=PA632&dq=naan+central+asia&lr=&as_brr=3&client=firefox-a Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads by Bernard Clayton, Donnie Cameron
  19. Qmin by Anil Ashokan, Greg Elms
  20. The Science of Cooking, Peter Barham, Springer: 2001. ISBN 978-3-540-67466-5. p. 118.
  21. The Bread Lover's Bread Machine Cookbook by Beth Hensperger
  22. "Getting Your Buzz with Turkish coffee". Retrieved 19 August 2015.
  23. Brad Cohen. "BBC - Travel - The complicated culture of Bosnian coffee". Retrieved 19 August 2015.


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