by Daniel Rogov
Because the cooking habits of Iraqis were so strongly influenced by neighboring Turkey and Iran, Iraq joins Israel as one of the only Middle-Eastern nations to lack a unique cuisine. Like the Turks, Iraqis love to stuff vegetables and eat a great deal of rice, lamb and yogurt. Like Iranians, they enjoy cooking fruits together with beef and poultry.
While there may not be a distinct style to Iraqi cookery, there are several dishes that have their roots there, and all have become well beloved parts of Israeli dining: Masgoof is an outdoor barbecue of skewered whole river fish; Pacha is a slowly cooked combination of sheep's head, stomach, feet and a variety of other meats in broth; and turshi, a mixture of pickled vegetables, is a popular side-dish.
Historian Reay Tannehill reports that in the 18th century, the most famous chefs of Baghdad were Jews who had traveled in Europe. Upon their return, they introduced French and Italian influences to the diet of upper-class Iraqi families. Even today, one of the most popular dishes in Baghdad is lahma bi ajeen. Composed of circles of yeast bread topped with ground lamb that has been cooked in herbed tomato sauce, the dish was devised by a Jewish chef after he had visited Italy. Many young Iraqis prefer to call the dish by its popular name - "pizza."
Daniel Rogov is the restaurant and wine critic for the daily newspaper Ha'aretz. He is also the senior writer for Wine and Gourmet Magazine and contributes culinary and wine articles to newspapers in Europe and the United States.
Source: Israeli Foreign Ministry and Rogov's Ramblings. Reprinted with permission.