Masgouf

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Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف
Maskuf8.jpg
Carp Masgûf slowly roasting on the wood embers
Type Main course
Place of origin
Southern Mesopotamia (Modern day Iraq)
Region or state
Baghdad and along the Tigris River
Creator(s) Sumerian-Babylonian[1][2]
Serving temperature
Hot
Main ingredients
Large freshwater carps and barbs from the Tigris-Euphrates Basin[3]
Variations Northern Iraqi variation, in a clay oven
[[wikibooks:Cookbook:Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف|Cookbook:Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف]]  [[commons:Special:Search/Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف |Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف]]

Semeç Masgûf (Iraqi Arabic: سمچ مسگوف'), or simply "Masgûf", is a traditional Mesopotamian dish, consisting of seasoned, grilled carp. It is de facto considered the national dish of Iraq.

Geographical Distribution[edit]

The Iraqi capital city Baghdad prides itself of making the best of the Masgûf, with its famous Ebû Newâs district on the shores of the Tigris river, "dedicated" to this dish, with more than two dozen fish restaurants.[4] Nonetheless, one can find the Masgûf all over Iraq, from North to South, especially in the regions near the Tigris-Euphrates Basin.

Outside of Iraq, the Masgûf is more or less popular in the Jazīra as in the rural parts of Syria, especially in the regions bordering Iraq, such as in the Raqqa Governorate, (crossed by the Euphrates). It is also seen, at a lesser scale, in the Jazīra areas located in Turkey, such as Nusaybin and Cizre, on the Iraqi border.

On a slightly larger scale, Masgûf can now be enjoyed in Damascus due to a high number of Iraqis living there as a diaspora, that immigrated after the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[5] In the district of Jeremana alone, where dwell most of the Iraqis, more than ten Masgûf restaurants, staffed exclusively by an Iraqi personnel have been opened in a row. The fish is brought daily from the Syrian Euphrates to these restaurants, and is kept alive in a fishpond or a big aquarium until it is ordered by a customer for serving.

Preparation and Serving[edit]

Live carps waiting for their fate

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.[6]

The locking grills made of cast iron

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.

Masgûf served on a tray

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 a mango 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.[7]

Variations[edit]

Masgûf roasting in a clay oven

The Turkmens of Northern Iraq prepare exactly the same recipe, with the only difference of using a clay oven. The end result is more or less the same, being just a little faster.

Notes[edit]

The Masgûf arguably being the most famous dish of Iraq, it is also the one that is always the foremost served to foreign delegations visiting the country by the Iraqi statesmen. Two notable admirers of this dish are said to be the former President of France, Jacques Chirac and Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the former chairman of the Russian Duma.[8] Chirac apparently fell for the Masgûf during a visit to Iraq in a formal dinner given to his honor by Saddam Hussein.

References[edit]

See also[edit]