The concept of modernity after decades of strife is a tough one to process. But when you’re meandering the streets of Baghdad in post-war Iraq, you can’t help but be awed at the resilience and resurgence of life. The scars of war remain, but so does an undeniable spirit—a spirit that’s found a haven in the kitchen.

After countless meals in the city’s hidden gems, I can say this for certain—Baghdad is redefining itself, one hearty dish at a time.

A man sitting in the back of a truck
The local conveyances were a bit different back in the day, and a man can only eat so many MREs. SOFREP Original art by the author.

Baghdad, by morning, is a feast for the senses. A walk through the bustling markets presents an array of colors, scents, and sounds, each more enticing than the last. Smoke from sizzling skewers of meat fills the air, the inviting smell of fresh bread wafts out from bakeries, and vendors hawk their colorful produce with an unyielding vigor that’s captivating.

My first stop is a local favorite—The Al-Shaibani Restaurant, known for its version of a national staple: masgouf, an ancient Mesopotamian dish. Here, the carp is meticulously selected, seasoned with oil, salt, and tamarind, then grilled over an open wood fire for hours. It’s worth every second of the wait. As I bite into the smoky, flaky fish, the combination of subtle spices and the distinctive charred flavor transports me back in time—it’s gastronomy and history on a plate.

But what’s a visit to Baghdad without embracing its unique street food culture? I find myself at a small roadside stall, surrounded by locals munching on dolma. It’s a medley of stuffed vegetables—peppers, onions, aubergines, tomatoes—packed with a savory mix of rice, minced meat, and spices. They’re cooked to perfection, each bite revealing a pop of flavor that speaks volumes about Iraq’s culinary heritage.

Some Things Are Slow to Change

The first 30 seconds of the video below will recalibrate your taste buds and make you wonder if the burger and fries at your go-to place down the street isn’t just good enough. It shows a bomb exploding in a crowded Baghdad marketplace on January 21st, 2021.  This occurred a mere 24 hours after Drew shot the footage you are about to watch. It is included to remind you that Baghdad, and the world, is still a dangerous place. No blood, gore, or bodies are shown, but please keep this incident in mind if you are thinking of doing your own culinary tour of Iraq.

That said, life isn’t really worth living without at least a little calculated risk.