Iraqi food is rich and diverse, incorporating spices typical of Arabic cooking, such as saffron and mint. Extra food is usually cooked in case of surprise visitors, while expected guests are treated to many elaborate dishes. People eat their evening meal around 8:00 p.m. Most cooking is done on gas or paraffin-oil stoves, though in the cities, people often own microwave ovens to help shorten cooking time.

The preferred meats in Iraq are lamb, beef, goat, mutton and poultry; Muslims do not eat pork or pork products. As in other Middle Eastern countries, Iraqi meat dishes often combine vegetables and rice. Iraqui cooking uses two varieties of rice: amber rice in the north, and neggaza in the south. Popular main courses include kebabs, which are skewered chunks of grilled meat; quzi, roasted and stuffed lamb; and kubba, which is minced meat with nuts, raisins and spices. Masgouf is a special dish made from fish that live in the Tigres river. Another popular dish is tripe, a dish made of cow's stomach; there are a number of tripe restaurants in the cities. Most meals are accompanied by flat rounds of bread (samoons).

For dessert, people enjoy some of Iraq's local fruits, rice pudding, Turkish Delight, sesame cookies, or baklava, a pastry made with honey and pistachios layered between filo sheets.

The most widely consumed drinks in Iraq are coffee and tea. Arabic coffee is famous for its strong flavour. In Iraq, people brew their coffee thick and bitter, and serve it black. Tea is usually served in small glasses and drunk sweetened, without milk. Fruit juices and soft drinks are also popular. Muslims are officially forbidden to consume alcohol.

Unfortunately, economic sanctions have altered Iraqi eating habits, as food has been rationed since 1991. In the south and central Iraq, the government issues five food items: wheat flour, rice, sugar, tea and cooking oil. Those with children under a year old can also get milk-powder, when available. Many foods are now too expensive for most people to buy, and in many places, people are receiving only about one third of their daily caloric requirement. Various international programs have been working in Iraq to distribute food.

  Rice with Saffron, Almonds and Raisins

960 ml water
1 tbsp rose water (available in Middle Eastern groceries)
1 pinch saffron
4 tbsp vegetable oil
480 ml basmati long-grain rice
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp vegetable oil
60 ml raw, unsalted, slivered almonds
60 ml raisins


In a large saucepan, mix the water, saffron, salt and four tablespoons of oil. Bring to a boil on high heat. Add the rice. Return to a boil, then lower to a medium heat. Let cook uncovered until most of the water has been absorbed. Stir from the bottom up, lower heat to simmer, cover, and let simmer for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, heat the two tablespoons of remaining oil in a small pan. Fry the almonds until slightly brown. Add the raisins, stirring for a few seconds until fluffy. Remove from heat. Serve the rice on a platter, garnished with the almond-raisin mixture.

  Did you know?
Iraqis make soft drinks at home from rose petals, orange blossoms, lemons, oranges, apricots, pomegranates or raisins.