Basra is home to the only strip of coast in Iraq, and as one might expect the province enjoys a reputation for fine seafood, as well as its own takes on the freshwater fish dishes that can be found throughout the country. Plates are graced with the fruits of fishing in the Arabian Gulf, Shatt al-Arab, the Tigris, the Euphrates and the Marshes. Little wonder, then, that a diverse selection of fish dishes are served at gatherings from a quiet family meal through to large feasts – a family won’t go a week without indulging.
In the coastal town of Al-Faw, as temperatures rise and the Al-Sharji wind blows, fish stocks, especially mullet, peak. Fishermen take full advantage of the season, and return to dock with loaded boats. And from the dock, to the market and then home – where the magic takes place.
The Basrawi secret to stuffed fish is to draw on readily available local ingredients (legend has the Garden of Eden was somewhere close) and combine them with the treasures that have arrived at the port from across the globe. Tamarind, garlic, celery, Basra lime and tomato paste are blended with spices such as curry for a dish unique to the region.
Traditionally grilled over a kasmwl, a wood-fired pit peculiar to Basra, the simplicity of grilling or baking fish in the kitchen’s oven has taken precedent.
Whilst some names will be recognisable to an English-speaking audience, fish local to basra have distinctly Arabic names:
Mullet, white pomfret, greasy grouper, prawns, mazlak, shank, nwaebe, dakwk, mwxaeat, byah, khashni, zwri, samti, kattan, jari, shbwt, abw alewi, mtwt and hamam.