It was April 2011, just after dusk, and we made our way to a restaurant in central Baghdad along Abu Nawas Street by the River Tigris. This area is well known for serving Iraq’s favourite fish dish…the “mazgouf”.
The restaurant, although having a roof, is open to the elements and was filled with many customers; obviously a popular place.
Having selected our live carp (allegedly from the adjacent Tigris but more probably from a fish farm), the cook removed the fish from the tank and then stunned them with a stick, gutted them by cutting along the back, applied some seasoning, and then impaled them to be slow-grilled next to an open fire of burning fruit tree branches such as from lemon trees and orange trees. What we didn’t realise was that it takes about an hour or so to cook the fish, so we had a lot of time to chat!
Carp are bottom feeders and if they were from the Tigris around Baghdad then I’m not sure that I’d have too many fish dinners; there has just been too much dumped in the river following the recent war. Once I’d got past wondering where the fish came from, I did enjoy the meal. I’m not a real fish eater so I can’t say it was a fantastic meal. It was good for sure but I certainly wasn’t jumping up and down in delight. Many would disagree with me and defend the fish. That’s fine. We all have different tastes, literally!
But the mazgouf is an important dish to the Iraqis and the Iraqi diaspora, and it helps to unite them through social gatherings and reinforce their identity and uniqueness; something that’s very much needed in these trying times.