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Semeç Masgûf (Arabic: سمچ مسگوف), or simply masgûf, is a Mesopotamian dish consisting of seasoned, grilled carp; it is often considered the national dish of Iraq.

Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف
Carp Masgûf slowly roasting on the wood embers
Course Main course
Place of origin Southern Mesopotamia (Modern day Iraq)[citation needed]
Region or state Baghdad and along the Tigris River
Created by 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:Special:Search/Cookbook: Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف|Cookbook: Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف]]  [[commons:Special:Search/Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف|Media: Semeç Masgûf
سمچ مسگوف]]


Geographical DistributionEdit

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

Outside of Iraq, 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.

Masgûf is now also found in Damascus due to a high number of Iraqis exiles living there since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.[5] In the district of Jeremana alone, where most Iraqis live, more than ten masgûf restaurants, staffed by Iraqis. 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.

Preparation and ServingEdit

Live carp

The fish is caught alive and weighed. It is clubbed to kill it, then split lengthwise down the belly, cleaned and spread out into a single flat piece. It is then partially scaled, gutted and cut in two identical halves from the back while leaving the belly intact, opening the fish in the shape of a large, symmetrical circle. From there, the cook bastes the inside of the fish with a marinade of olive oil, rock salt, tamarind, and ground turmeric.

The fish is then 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 this dish.[6]

The locking grills made of cast iron

The fish, together with the grill or the piles, is then placed near the fire of the "fire altar", a feature shared by all masgûf restaurants. This "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 is a large fire of apricot tree logs.

Cooking typically takes between one and three hours, until most of the fish's fat is burned off, 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 large 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]


Masgûf roasting in a clay oven

The Turkmens of Northern Iraq are known to prepare a similar recipe, often using a clay oven.

See alsoEdit


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 masgûf during a visit to Iraq in a formal dinner given to his honor by Saddam Hussein.


  1. ^ Food of Iraq: Enshrined With A Long History
  2. ^ "Delights from the Garden of Eden, A History of the Iraqi Cuisine". Archived from the original on 2010-07-15. Retrieved 2010-12-15. 
  3. ^ Masgouf:From Mesopotamia to Manhattan
  4. ^ Beeston, Richard (27 June 2007). "Imams put fatwa on carp caught in Tigris". The Times. London. Archived from the original on 6 September 2008. 
  5. ^ "أسعار العقارات في جرمانا تتحدى الإنحدار .. والجمود لم " ("Real estate prices in Jaramana challenge Downgrade ..") De Press - Buildex Online 19 March 2009, in Arabic, last accessed 18 September 2010
  6. ^ Masgouf :Prepare fish like they did along the Tigris Archived 2007-11-05 at the Wayback Machine.
  7. ^ Taus-Bolstad, Stacy (2003) Iraq in Pictures, Twenty-First Century Books, p.55, ISBN 0-8225-0934-2
  8. ^ "Fish chef nostalgic about Iraq's glory past".