Iraqi cuisine sweeps London as expat numbers increase

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Londoners are getting the chance to taste more of Iraq’s special traditional dishes, including the likes of Kabab and Magsouf, as more restaurants featuring Iraqi cuisine are opening in the British city due to an increasing number of Iraqi expats.

Indeed more American-style food restaurants have opened in Iraq, but on the flip side, the country’s traditional cuisine has been sweeping European countries and the United States.

One reason behind why many Iraqi restaurants are opening in the United Kingdom is the increasing Iraqi community, said an Iraqi London-based restaurant owner.

“There are more than half million Iraqis in UK,” said Haider al-Yaseri, owner of the “Masgouf Cuisine” Iraqi restaurant Located in Knightsbridge, London.

Many Iraqis fled Iraq during the war, al-Yaseri said. The number of Iraqi expats has reached 4 to 5 million around the world, he added, saying he believes this is the reason why many Iraqi restaurants are opening, not only in London but across Europe, in Germany and Belgium in particular.

The "Masgouf” restaurant is named after a famous, widely known Iraqi fish dish. The process of baking Masgouf begins by selecting a live fish and mounting it in front of a big fire.

The baking process usually takes place in an open-air area, but due to space limitations, al-Yaseri says their Masgouf is baked by natural coal.

With two branches opened in UK and one more to open in Paris soon, al-Yaseri says Iraqi restaurants have been imposing an effect on western culture.

During the London 2012 Olympic Games, the shop sponsored a cultural Iraqi day, where Iraqi products, music and food were on display in a large location in London.

“Iraqi cuisine is a mix of Turkish, Iranian and Iraqi tastes,” said al-Yaseri. This attracts Arabs visitors and residents in London to head to the restaurant, he added. But there are Europeans who also like to eat Iraqi food.

“Our non-Arab visitors make up 30-40 percent of our visitors,” added Al-Yaseri.

However, not serving alcoholic drinks is one reason that holds back European guests from coming, according to Chef Hamza al-Naem, who has been working in the restaurant for more than 10 years.

“Our restaurant does not serve alcoholic drinks at all in respect to Islamic values,” and this affects the number of Europeans visiting the place, al-Naem said.