Iraqi cuisine is a Middle Eastern cuisine that has its origins in the ancient Near East culture of the fertile crescent.[1][2][3] Tablets found in ancient ruins in Iraq show recipes prepared in the temples during religious festivals—the first cookbooks in the world.[3][4] Ancient Mesopotamia was home to a sophisticated and highly advanced civilization, in all fields of knowledge, including the culinary arts.[3]

The Iraqi kitchen reached its zenith in the Islamic Golden Age when Baghdad was the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 AD).

The cuisine varies across the country. The cooking of Northern Iraq is known for adding pomegranate to the dolma juice prominently to give it a unique taste. In Southern Iraq, fish is used extensively, while the middle region, including Baghdad and the surrounding cities, is known for its variety of rice dishes and sweets.

Contemporary Iraq reflects the same natural division as ancient Mesopotamia,[5][6][7][8] which consisted of Assyria in the arid northern uplands and Babylonia in the alluvial plain.[8] Upper Mesopotamia grows wheat and crops requiring winter chill such as apples and stone fruits.[8] Lower Mesopotamia grows rice and barley, citrus fruits, and is responsible for Iraq's position as one of the world's largest producer of dates.

Pork consumption is forbidden to Muslims in Iraq, in accordance with Sharia, the Islamic law.

Dates, apricots, figs, and prunes are processed to make dried fruits


See also: History of Mesopotamia and History of Iraq

Archaeologists have found evidence from excavations at Jarmo, in northeastern Iraq, that pistachio nuts were a common food as early as 6750 BC.[9] Among the ancient texts discovered in Mesopotamia is a Sumerian-Akkadian bilingual dictionary,[10] recorded in cuneiform script on 24 stone tablets about 1900 BC.[10] It lists terms in the two ancient Iraqi languages for over 800 different items of food and drink.[10] Included are 20 different kinds of cheese, over 100 varieties of soup and 300 types of bread, each with different ingredients, filling, shape or size.[10]

The world's oldest recipes are found in Mesopotamia of modern-day ancient Iraq, written in cuneiform tablets.[11][4] One of three excavated cuneiform clay tablets written in 1700 BC in Babylon,[12][11] 50 miles south of present-day Baghdad, contains 24 recipes for stew cooked with meat and vegetables,[12] enhanced and seasoned with leeks, onion, garlic, and spices and herbs like cassia, cumin, coriander, mint, and dill.[12] Stew has remained a mainstay in the cuisine.[12] Extant medieval Iraqi recipes and modern Iraqi cuisine attest to this.[12]


Kleicha is sometimes considered the national cookie of Iraq and is served during religious holidays.

Some characteristic ingredients of Iraqi cuisine include:

Other Iraqi culinary essentials include olive oil, sesame oil, tamarind, vermicelli, tahini, honey, date syrup, yogurt and rose water.

Lamb is the favorite meat, but chicken, beef, goat and fish are also eaten. Most dishes are served with rice—usually timman anbar, a yellowish, very aromatic, long-grain rice grown in the Middle Euphrates region.[13]

Bulghur wheat is used in many dishes, having been a staple in the country since the days of the ancient Assyrians.[3] Flatbread is a staple that is served with a variety of dips, cheeses, olives, and jams, at every meal.

Common dishes


Meals begin with appetizers and salads, known as mezza. Mezza is a selection of appetizers or small dishes often served with a beverage, like anise-flavored liqueurs such as arak, ouzo, rakı, sambuca, pastis, or various wines, similar to the tapas of Spain, or finger food.

Mezza may include:

Samoon, type of Iraqi bread.


Soups and stews

Various stews served over rice form a major part of Iraqi cuisine.

A prepared masgouf
Iraqi kebab, usually served with khubz or samoon
A plate of Parda blaw
Iraqi dolma
Tepsi baytinijan
Potato slices are placed on top of the mixture, and the dish is baked. Like many other Iraqi dishes it is usually served with rice, along with salad and pickles.

Dumplings and meatballs

Vegetarian varieties include lauki kofta,[23] shahi aloo kofta,[24] and malai kofta.[25]

Processed meat

Rice dishes

Long-grain rice is a staple in Iraqi cuisine.[16][19] Iraqi rice cooking is a multistep process intended to produce just-tender, fluffy grains.[13] A prominent aspect of Iraqi rice cooking is the hikakeh, a crisp bottom crust.[13] Before serving, the hikakeh is broken into pieces so that everyone is provided with some along with the fluffy rice.[13]

The Assyrians of Iraq may either call it dolma or yaprekh which is the Syriac term for stuffed grape leaves.
Iraqis usually serve dolma without yoghurt. Often chicken or beef ribs are added to the cooking pot, and sometimes served with the dolma instead of masta or khalwah. Iraqi dolma is usually cooked and served in a tomato-based sauce.
Dolma is very popular in Iraq. In Mosul they include courgettes (zucchini), tomatoes, onions, peppers, eggplant, and grape leaves. They are occasionally steamed.

In Iraqi Arabic, rice is called temmen, which is an assimilation of English "ten men" (a brand of Indian basmati rice).[29] According to the myth, the word originated after World War I when Iraqi farmers declined to provide the British with rice to feed their soldiers in Basra. Thereafter, the British imported "Ten Men" instead.[30] As such, when Iraqi porters used to hear British soldiers requesting them to carry the pouches of "Ten Men", they thought it meant rice in English. The word temmen has since entered the Iraqi vocabulary, and today, Iraqis still use that word for rice.[31]

Sandwiches and wraps


Breads and pastries

Lahm b'ajeen, garnished with parsley, tomato, red onion, and a wedge of lemon
Sfiha are much like dolma, ground lamb, lightly spiced, wrapped in brined grape leaves.

Condiments, sauces and spices


The earliest known recipe for cake comes from ancient Mesopotamia. Believed to be primarily for consumption at the palace or temple, the cake was made from fat, white cheese, dates and raisins. Another recipe dating to the reign of Hammurabi (1792 BCE–1750 BCE) includes similar basic ingredients with the addition of grape syrup, figs and apples.[32]

The traditional Iraqi kleicha cookies are believed to have their roots in Mesopotamian qullupu—date filled pastries baked in a wood-fired oven called tannour. In modern times, other types of cookies (biskit) and cakes (ka'ak) are made at home, usually flavored with cardamom or rose water. Some variations include the disc-shaped khfefiyyat, half-moon shaped kleichat joz made with nuts, and date-filled kleichat tamur.[32]

"White baklava", osh el bulbul (bird's nests) and other traditional sweets in Iraq

Cookbooks dating to the Abbasid Caliphate between the 10th and 13th centuries include recipes for hundreds of desserts. The tradition continues into the modern day, but the rich, syrupy desserts like baklava are usually prepared for special occasions or religious celebrations, as most daily meals are usually followed by a simple course of seasonal fruit, especially dates, figs, cantaloupes, nectarines, apricots, pomegranates, peaches, mulberries, grapes or watermelons.[32]

Though not as recognizable as baklava, the fried pastry called lauzeenaj, flavored with mastic and rose water, was a specialty in imperial Baghdad.

Rosette-shaped fritters called zalabia are a local specialty, believed to take their name from Ziryab, a well-known Iraqi musician in the Caliphate of Cordoba.

Baklava and zalabia are typical offerings during the Eid al-Fitr celebrations that follow Ramadan. Halqoum (commonly known as Turkish delight) are traditionally given as gifts during the holiday.[32]

Others include:


Iraqi tea served at the Shabandar Café, Baghdad

Alcoholic beverages

On February 20, 2023, a law was published banning the import, production and sale of all types of alcoholic beverages, punishable by fines of up to IQD 25 million. There is currently no further information available regarding the enforcement of the law, which is currently being litigated.

Non-alcoholic beverages

Related cuisines

See also


  1. ^ "Tasty Ancient Recipes from Mesopotamia – History et cetera". Retrieved 2021-12-27.
  2. ^ "Iraqi Cuisine". Retrieved 2021-12-27.
  3. ^ a b c d Foods of Iraq: Enshrined With A Long History. Habeeb Salloum.
  4. ^ a b "Inspired by the oldest clay tablet 'cookbook' in the world (1700 BC) | Foodpairing / blog". Foodpairing. 2015-09-15. Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  5. ^ "Tasty Ancient Recipes from Mesopotamia – History et cetera".
  6. ^ "The Ancient Mesopotamian Tablet as Cookbook | Roundtable". Lapham’s Quarterly. 11 June 2019.
  7. ^ "Iraqi Cuisine".
  8. ^ a b c Davidson, Alan; Jaine, Tom (2006). The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford University Press. p. 405. ISBN 978-0-19-280681-9.
  9. ^ "History and Agriculture of the Pistachio Nut". IRECO. Archived from the original on 13 July 2006. Retrieved 27 February 2012.
  10. ^ a b c d Lawton, John. "Mesopotamian Menus". Saudi Aramco World, March/April 1988. Saudi Aramco. Retrieved 30 March 2012.
  11. ^ a b Winchester, Ashley. "The world's oldest-known recipes decoded". Retrieved 2020-05-29.
  12. ^ a b c d e Albala, Ken (2011). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 251–252. ISBN 978-0-313-37627-6.
  13. ^ a b c d Marks, Gil (2010). Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. John Wiley & Sons. p. 585. ISBN 978-0-470-39130-3.
  14. ^ "Iraqi Sumac Salad (Summaq salad)". International Cuisine. 14 January 2016.
  15. ^ "Fasolia Yabsa (Iraqi White Bean Stew)". 22 September 2020.
  16. ^ a b c d e ʻAlī Akbar Mahdī, (2003) p.40 -41
  17. ^ Jacob (2007) p.4
  18. ^ Fair, (2008) p.72
  19. ^ a b c d Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2003) Iraq in Pictures, Twenty-First Century Books, p.55, ISBN 0-8225-0934-2
  20. ^ a b c Jacob (2007) p.2
  21. ^ Nasrallah, Nawal (2003). Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and a History of the Iraqi Cuisine. 1stBooks. p. 221. ISBN 978-1-4033-4793-0.
  22. ^ Fair, (2008), p.71
  23. ^ "Lauki Kofta Curry Recipe / Dudhi Kofta Curry / Bottle Gourd Kofta". 27 February 2019.
  24. ^ "Shahi Aloo kofta curry Recipe". 6 March 2020.
  25. ^ "Malai kofta recipe | How to make malai kofta curry | Paneer kofta". 27 August 2017.
  26. ^ Albala, Ken (2011-05-25). Food Cultures of the World Encyclopedia [4 volumes]: [Four Volumes]. ABC-CLIO. ISBN 978-0-313-37627-6.
  27. ^ Nasrallah, Nawal (2013). Delights from the Garden of Eden: A Cookbook and History of the Iraqi Cuisine. Equinox Pub. ISBN 978-1-84553-457-8.
  28. ^ "Chicken and rice (Tibeat)". 15 November 2011.
  29. ^ "How English words entered Arabic through the British empire in Iraq". The Independent. 17 June 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  30. ^ "Sound familiar? 8 foreign words that have become as Arabic as ahlan". Albawaba. 12 January 2017. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  31. ^ "The strange tales behind how some English words found their way into the Iraqi dialect of Arabic". The Conversation. 25 April 2018. Retrieved 19 April 2024.
  32. ^ a b c d Roufs, Timothy G.; Roufs, Kathleen Smyth. Sweet Treats Around the World. pp. 179–183.
  33. ^ "IRAQ: Happy hour". January 30, 2008.
  34. ^ Zeed, Adnan Abu (October 12, 2018). "Arak distillery promotes ambitious new brand in defiance of alcohol ban". Al-Monitor.