Happiness is . . . Masgouf.

What is Masgouf? I hear you ask. The story begins in ancient Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Tigris where carp was grilled in a charcoal pit (typically using apricot tree bark). Masgouf is considered the national dish of Iraq.

As I had a friend who is originally from Baghdad visiting, I decided to give him a taste of home (home being the heart of happiness). Now unfortunately, I don’t have a charcoal pit handy at home so we visited a renowned restaurant on the Rigga Road called Kabab Erbil. There are a number of outlets for this restaurant but I’ve found the Rigga Road branch to be second to none.

The first thing that you’re greeted with is the ornate wooden door with its intricate carvings. You really feel you’re about to enter somewhere special.

Next the sounds of water trickling greets your ears. Almost imperceptible with the cries from the kitchen. The tables are arranged for both groups and individuals and they’re able to cater for children (I needed a high chair for the little man).

What amazed me was the charcoal pit, safely tucked behind a clear glass that emanated heat and the thrill of the food to come. What is it about fire that makes people want to gather around it? Or perhaps it was an instagram-worthy shot people were after. We worshipped at that fish altar mesmerised by its sheer size and uniqueness.

When you order you’ll notice the service is surly and lackadaisical (this always makes me giggle) but the food is so incredible I come back time and again. The masgouf was marinated in sumac, lemon, tamarind, olive oil and some unknown magic that made this delectable 4 kg fish (allegedly taken from the Tigris itself) go from this . . .

Turn into this . . .

Oh and that golden nectar in the top right corner is known as amba – a tangy mango and turmeric condiment served alongside the masgouf. Of course what Middle Eastern dish would be complete without rice? The red rice at Kabab Erbil is out of this world. I could eat the rice alone with no accompaniment and be perfectly content. It’s a ruby hue and contains slithers of vermicelli and golden raisins. The raisins burst in your mouth like little tasty bombs, balancing the savoury with little jewels of sweetness.

Smiles all around . . .