One of the best dishes on offer in Baghdad is Masgouf, grilled fish, spiced with salt, pepper and tamarind, then placed in a metal grill and barbecued in front of a open flame on the pavement. Served with rice, cooked with tomato paste, or rice prepared with saffron, along with salad and pickles it is a delight. Masgouf has become extremely expensive, making it a dish only for special occasions for many.

Upon request of a customer, the fish is caught live and weighed. If agreed on, the animal is killed on the spot by a quick blow onto the forehead with a small rod. It is then partially scaled, gutted and cut in two identical halves from the belly up while leaving the back intact, opening the fish in the shape of a big symmetrical circle. From there, the master cook generously bastes the marinade on the inside of the fish with a brush.

Note that the aforementioned marinade is exclusively made by a variable mixture of olive oil, rock salt, tamarind and ground turmeric.

Following the marination process, the fish is either impaled on two sharp piles of wood, or placed in a big cast iron grill with a handle and a locking snare, designed specifically for that duty.

The next step is the most delicate one, since the fish, together with the grill or the piles, is placed near the fire of the fire altar, a common feature shared by all Masgûf restaurants. The said “altar” typically consists of a big open-air area centered by a raised, podium-like sandbox that is either round, octagonal or sometimes rectangular and in the middle of which there’s always a rather large bonfire, consisting exclusively of apricot tree logs.

The cooking typically takes between one and three hours depending on the size of the fish, until most of the fish’s fat is burnt out (as the carps are typically fatty), time during which the guests will pick at their mezes.

When the fish is well cooked and crispy on the outsides, it is typically laid on a big tray garnished with lime (or lemon), slices of onion and Iraqi pickles. Sometimes, in Baghdad, a little bit of amango chutney is also spread on the inside. The tray is then covered by a large crispy flatbread straight of a clay oven to keep the contents hot until served to the client


Large fresh carp

Olive oil


Leave a comment