Iraq is considered one of the oldest and most influential cultures in the Middle East. It also has an ancient maqam heritage which is orally passed down by the maqam masters. With this rich cultural heritage, it is no surprise that people also deeply appreciate the wide variety of foods in Iraq.
What Is Special About Foods In Iraq?
Iraq doesn’t have a native cooking style, but the country has many native dishes. Authentic Iraqi food usually includes rice and meat, especially lamb meat, beef, or poultry. As most Iraqi citizens are Muslims, they prefer not to eat pork due to religious reasons.
Traditionally, a barbecue mezze is served before the main course, accompanying eggs, herbs, and fermented milk dishes. These are some of the traditional foods in Iraq to try that are bound to tantalize your taste buds.
Most Famous Iraqi Food
Masgouf (Iraqi Grilled Fish)
Masgouf is a popular option for people who love seafood. It is considered one of the national foods in Iraq. Due to its popularity, this grilled fish is often the first serving for foreign delegations by Iraqi statesmen.
The best part about this Iraqi food is that the fish is caught fresh from the Tigris River. It is seasoned with local spices and olive oil, then grilled until the meat becomes soft and succulent. Conversely, the outer layer of the fish meat turns crispy with a nice aroma.
This traditional Iraqi food is served with lime and mango chutney. It is also usually accompanied by naan, grilled vegetables, tomatoes, and onion sauce. The capital city of Iraq, Baghdad, is known as the best place to try masgouf.
Appetizers And Snack Foods In Iraq
Falafel (Deep-Fried Fritters)
Falafels are a typical Iraqi food eaten all over the Middle East. Originating from the Arabs, these deep-fried ball-shaped fritters have grown to become one of the national foods in Iraq.
These popular mid-day snacks are prepared from ground chickpeas, broad beans, or both. They also contain cumin, coriander, parsley, and mint. With a slightly crunchy texture and a rich grainy and herby flavor, it is obvious why they are so popular.
These small balls are usually served wrapped in local flatbreads called samoon, pita, or taboon. The bread is baked in an eye shape and cut in half as soon as it comes out of the oven. It is stuffed with falafel, salads, pickled vegetables, and tahini or amba sauce.
You can easily satisfy midday hunger with these delicious wraps. Falafel can also be enjoyed with hummus, tahini sauce, and pickled vegetables.
Tabbouleh (Iraqi Salad)
Tabbouleh is a healthy Iraq food with an incredible refreshing taste. It is a starter salad introduced in the Middle Ages, which then slowly spread its roots to Israel and Arab countries.
This famous Iraqi food features tomatoes, parsley, red onions, mint, and bulgur wheat. All the ingredients are finely chopped and tossed with lemon juice. Adding tomatoes and lemon juice gives it a slightly tangy and refreshing flavor.
In Iraq, you can enjoy this famous salad as an appetizer or a side dish with almost every meal. It is a real treat for vegetarians and vegans.
Labneh (Strained Yogurt)
Labneh, also known as laban, is well-loved among the people of the Middle East. It is a yogurt-based drink that is prepared from fermented milk. This recipe is popular in many regions and is known as one of the oldest recipes in the Middle East.
In northern Iraq, this strained yogurt has another variant called kashk. It is prepared by different methods in which the dried wheat is heated with yogurt. It is then fermented for an hour or two, dried under the sun, and dissolved in water for consumption.
This popular Iraqi food can be eaten in different forms. Mostly it is served as plain semi-liquid yogurt with some spices or as cheese balls. It has a thick and creamy consistency with a powder-like texture.
Kibbeh (Iraqi Rice And Potato Meat Balls)
Originating from Syria, kibbeh or kubba is a well-known Iraqi food famous all across Middle Eastern countries. Kibbeh is derived from the Arabic word kubba, meaning balls. This delicacy is enjoyed more like a snack for tea or for iftar during Ramadan.
The Iraqi version of kubba has a tricky cooking process and features ground meat with potato and rice balls. The minced meat is stuffed in oversized rice and potato shells to make these deep-fried or boiled dumplings. Most travelers recommend the fried version of kubba because it has a delicious crispy outer crust and soft filling.
This famous food in Iraq is served warmly with tahini sauce or plain yogurt. Many eateries serve fresh Mediterranean salad, yogurt garlic dip, and tzatziki sauce with this tempting Iraq food.
Sfiha (Iraqi Meat Pizza)
Sfiha is originally an Arab food brought to other countries by the Levantine migrants. This delicacy enjoys a good reputation in Iraq, growing to become a beloved street food and a famous Iraqi breakfast. Sfiha is known as Arabian pizza, but unlike Italian pizza, all the ingredients are mixed and cheese is eliminated.
This Middle Eastern classic consists of a flatbread topped with minced mutton. Some people also add tomatoes, onions, spices, and pine nuts and bake them to perfection. It is tender and full of enticing flavor.
Soups In Iraqi Cuisine
Tashreeb (Iraqi Bread Meat Soup)
The Arabic word tashreeb is given to broth-soaked bread with meat or vegetable toppings. In Iraq, this rustic soup was introduced by local peasants, and now it is one of the favorite meals of every family in Iraq. Locals enjoy it in a traditional style by soaking flatbread in the soup as it gets moist and fluffy.
This communal Iraqi food contains local flatbread, chickpeas, lamb, or chicken. It is not only delicious but also a nourishing and flavourful everyday meal. Another good point of this simple stew is that it is a comparatively more cost-efficient lunch and dinner than other Iraqi dishes.
Shorbat Rumman (Pomegranate Soup)
Shorbat Rumman is a traditional sweet and savory pomegranate soup. The origin of this flavourful dish is still unknown. Some people believe it to be Iranian food, whereas Iraqis believe it originated within the country.
This pomegranate stew is juicy and succulent. It has a base of pomegranate juice, lentils, and split peas with mint leaves and spices which give a robust taste. The soupy dish is flavorful and sweet, but not overpowering.
The use of natural and healthy ingredients makes Shorbat Rumman an extremely nutritious meal. This Iraqi food has a warming effect, so try it on a cold winter day garnished with fresh greens.
Khubz Tannur (Tandoor Bread)
Khubz tannur is a typical flatbread eaten in Iraq and the Middle East. This Iraq food is cooked in a clay oven called tandoor, hence the name.
Khubz looks like a large-sized pita bread, naan, or pizza base. It is chewy and has more thickness than other unleavened breads. This round-shaped Iraqi bread is made with common ingredients, including flour, yeast, salt, and water.
The locals eat this bread with meat and vegetable stews or sauces and often stuff it with delicious meat fillings. It pairs well with other popular foods in Iraq; thus it is served with almost every meal and every occasion in the country.
Samoon (Iraqi Bread)
Samoon is a type of Iraqi yeast bread that is consumed almost daily by locals. Like many other Iraqi breads, it is baked in traditional stone ovens called tandoor. After Khubz, it is the most consumed bread in Iraq.
Samoon is very similar to pita bread, but it is made with yogurt. It also has an unusual diamond shape and an appetizing crust with sesame topping.
The bread is usually served for breakfast with cream or cheese. It also pairs perfectly with hummus, kebab, shawarma, and stews. Samoon is a delicious Iraqi food that you can eat every day with every meal.
Main Dishes And Foods In Iraq
Makhlama (Iraqi Eggs And Lamb)
Makhlama is a soft-cooked egg dish on top of ground beef or lamb. It is an exotic recipe that originated in Iraq and soon spread widely across other Arab countries. This egg dish is one of the most preferred foods in Iraq for a fulfilling breakfast.
The main ingredients of makhlama are ground meat, tomato sauce, onions, parsley, and eggs. This Iraqi food offers a dominant taste of lamb with tangy tomato sauce and a blend of all the ingredients.
Traditionally, makhlama is served with warm and fresh Iraqi bread. The garnishing of greens, fresh lemon juice, and sumac gives it an appetizing appearance.
Margat Bamia (Mutton Okra Stew)
Margat bamia is a classic mutton and okra stew from Iraq. The popularity of this stew is not only limited to the Middle East; it is also loved by Anatolia, Greece, and Arab countries.
This delicious Iraqi food features okra, lamb meat or beef, garlic broth, and tomatoes. The meat is perfectly tender and the divine taste of okra is mixed well with spices.
Margat bamia is one of the most flavorful foods in Iraq. It can be served with plain rice or bulgur, but traditionally, flatbread is soaked and eaten in this zesty stew. Furthermore, it is often accompanied by salad, lemon, chilies, and chopped vegetables.
Iraqi Kebab And Tikka (Spicy Grilled Meat)
Kebab is a universally famous dish, sometimes known by different names throughout the world. Every country has a specific kebab recipe, with different ingredients and cooking processes. In Iraq, kebabs were first introduced in the 9th century by Iranians and have become an essential part of traditional Iraqi food.
Iraq is particularly known for its grilled kebabs and tikka. The kebabs are a combination of lamb, beef, lamb fat, onions, parsley, and spices, all ground together, skewered and grilled. On the other hand, Iraqi tikka consists of chunks of lamb or beef.
Both kinds of Iraqi barbecue are super soft and juicy and have a subtle flavor. You can enjoy them with traditional Iraqi bread and pickled vegetables.
Iraqi Shawarma (Doner Kebab)
Shawarma is one of the most famous foods in Iraq, which can be easily found anywhere in the Middle East. It is a flatbread stuffed with juicy and tender meat, pickled vegetables, and sauces.
Initially, shawarma contained lamb meat, but now it also comes with a wide range of meat, like chicken or beef. The meat is marinated with special spices including cumin, black pepper, and coriander powder.
The meat for shawarma is cooked with a unique technique, where it is sliced and rolled on a cone-shaped grill. This grill rotates in front of heating devices that roast the outer layer of meat. The cooked part of the meat is cut with sharp knives and placed on flatbread along with pickled vegetables.
You can enjoy a perfect combination of soft and roasted meat with vegetables in every bite. This traditional Iraqi food often contains tahini sauce, but sometimes it also has amba sauce. The addition of these sauces gives it a juicy and tender flavor.
Rice Dishes And Foods In Iraq
Dolma (Stuffed Grape Leaves)
Dolma is a universally popular Iraqi food that originates from Turkey. It features grape leaves, stuffed with minced meat, rice, and vegetables.
This Iraqi snack delivers a burst of flavors to your palate. It has a subtle and lingering wine-like taste. In Iraq, dolma mahshi is the most famous version, which includes grape leaves stuffed with meat and onions.
There is another fascinating version of dolma which contains lamb chops with rice, ground lamb, and spices. The recipe for this Iraqi rice dish has spread throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and Turkey. You can enjoy it both as an appetizer and as a main course.
Quzi (Stuffed Whole Lamb Roast)
Quzi is one of the cherished traditional foods in Iraq. It originated in the country and is also popular across Turkey and Arab countries. Some people consider it the treasure of Iraqi cuisine, as it is served on special occasions.
This popular Iraqi food contains roasted lamb stuffed with veggies, nuts, raisins, and rice. The lamb is slowly cooked on charcoal which gives it a smoky flavor and served on a bed of rice. It is also topped with raisins and nuts, which gives this exotic dish a beautiful presentation to increase your appetite.
Desserts And Sweet Foods In Iraq
Kanafeh (Iraqi Pastry)
It’s time to taste the sweet side of Iraqi cuisine. Kanafeh is a Middle Eastern dessert with a Fatimid origin, offering a heavenly taste with a subtle sweetness.
This sweet traditional Iraqi dessert is made with cheese and spun pastry, also known as angel hair. Once baked, it is sprinkled with crushed pistachios, walnuts, and a rose water-scented syrup called attar.
This Iraqi delicacy is soft, creamy, and moist on the inside and crispy and crunchy on the outside. It is one of the best Iraqi sweets to enjoy with tea or coffee.
Kleicha (Iraqi Date Cookies)
Kleicha is another sweet addition to Iraqi cuisine. It is a Middle Eastern cookie that resembles a Swiss roll. The inner filling features a nut and date paste and chopped nuts.
In Iraq, these crescent-shaped Iraqi cookies have a delightful filling of chopped nuts, sugar, and grated coconut. Sometimes, it also includes cardamom and rose water which gives a sweet and floral aroma.
These traditional cookies are mainly made for celebrations and weddings. But you can find them anytime in local bakeries and enjoy them as an evening snack with tea.
Drinks And Beverages With Iraqi Food
Chai Al Iraqi (Iraqi Tea)
Tea, known as chai in Iraqi cuisine, is the most authentic and historic local tradition. In Iraq, the tea is served in glass tea cups locally known as Istikan, meaning “East Tea Can.” In Northern Iraq, they use the word pyaale for tea cups.
It is one of the most consumed beverages throughout the day. Iraqi tea is prepared by boiling the tea in water and placing it in another pot with boiling water to infuse it perfectly.
Iraqi breakfast and social gatherings are incomplete without their cultural tea. It is so vital in every household that you will be offered a hot cup after every meal and evening snack.
Arak (Iraqi Rice Wine)
Arak is the traditional Iraqi alcoholic beverage enjoyed by the Yazidi and Christian communities in Iraq. It is consumed all over the country by minorities. But there are some restrictions in Karbala and Najaf for religious reasons.
This distilled drink is made of crushed grapes and aniseed. It is known and loved for its milky-white color and potency. The translucent arak is usually served in social settings and gatherings with grilled meat or local dishes.
It is traditionally enjoyed in a water vessel known as Ibrik. This drink has a high alcohol content and is usually enjoyed as one-part arak and two-parts water and ice.
FLAVORS AROUND THE WORLD
Discovering Traditional Foods In Iraq
Iraq is known for its fine handicrafts, rugs, and its maqam heritage. However, you cannot miss out on the vibrant food scene. Each dish, from appetizer to dessert, tells a story of the country’s rich history and diverse culture.
A fun fact about Iraq is that it has ancient dishes dating back to Babylonians. However, modern Iraqi cuisine has more of a Persian and Turkish influence.
The foods in Iraq usually consist of local produce like dates and fragrant amber rice. Some of the most common and popular ingredients in Iraqi cuisine include meat, veggies, cereals, pulses, legumes, and fruits.
When visiting, be prepared for a mouth-watering culinary journey through traditional Iraqi food that will leave you yearning for a taste.