Iraq has been much in the news in recent years, and even decades, but the Iraqi people often come across as abstractions based on what we know of (or think we know of) their politics and religion. But how much do we really know about their day to day life, or such mundane matters as their food?
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 Civilization” founded approximately 5300 BCE, the earliest known civilization on Earth that practiced sustained, year-round agriculture and had permanent settlements of sufficient density to be considered cities.
Not only has Iraqi culture had over 7,000 years to evolve, but because it lies in a region of great political, economic, and military significance, it has constantly come in contact with and been influenced by numerous other civilizations. 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 colored by its neighbors, including modern day Iran, Turkey, and Syria, and to a lesser extent India and Greece.
Note that of the aforementioned, all but Syria are non-Arab nations. Due to its location as a crossroads leading to varied cultures, Iraq more than any other Arab nation has been influenced in its culture and food by non-Arab peoples.
Iraqis are heavy meat eaters (when economic conditions allow for it; in recent years much of the Iraqi diet has been modified by necessity). Lamb, chicken, and fish are favored main dishes. Meat is typically marinated with lemon and garlic and other spices, and often served skewered as kabobs.
Frequently served on special occasions is a barbecued fish dish called masgouf. Masgouf is spiced fish served with rice and tomatoes.
Rice in fact is a staple of the Iraqi diet. Most meals are served with seasoned Basmati rice. Other popular accompaniments are yogurt, burghul (a light, nutty, whole grain, crushed and dried wheat dish), and stuffed vegetables.
The most commonly prepared bread of Iraq is a flat, round bread called samoon.
A wide variety of fruits are grown in Iraq, and fruits and vegetables are a big part of the Iraqi diet. Iraq is renowned for its dates, which are customarily served as dessert with coffee after most meals.
Iraqi cooking uses many spices, including cinnamon, cloves, and paprika. However, it tends to be less heavily spiced than the cuisine of other Arab nations.
One of the food-related rituals of Iraq is to sacrifice a lamb or goat for a feast on special occasions, but again this becomes rare during times of privation like the present.
Iraqi meals are often eaten while sitting cross-legged or kneeling on one knee on the floor, having removed one’s shoes. Etiquette requires avoiding allowing one’s feet to touch the food mat, and using only one’s right hand to eat. It is considered polite to leave a small portion of food on one’s plate.
Flora Richards-Gustafson, “Iraqi Food and Drink.” eHow.
“Countries and Their Cultures: Iraq.” Every Culture.
“Foods of Iraq: Enshrined With a Long History.” Things Asian.
“Iraq-Language, Culture, Customs and Etiquette.” Kwintessential.