Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

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Iraq as it exists today, reflects the same natural division as ancient Mesopotamia, which consisted of Assyria in the arid northern uplands and Babylonia in the marshy south. Al-Jazirah (the ancient Assyria) grows wheat and crops requiring winter chill such as apples and stone fruits. The south, Al Iraq (Iraq proper, ancient Babylonia) grows rice and is responsible for Iraq’s position as the world’s largest producer of dates.

As one would expect, the north cooks rather like neighbouring Syria (see lebanon and syria), while the south, even when it cooks dishes of the same basic type, produces quite original results because of its reliance on rice, fish, and dates. The difference goes beyond the ingredients, however. In Mosul, the cultural capital of the north, mutabbaqa (literally, ‘layered’) is a sort of flaky bun of puff paste, but in Basra in the far south the virtually identical word mutabbag means a dish of fish or meat smothered in rice.