My parents know for a fact that I am not a fish person. I am a certified shout-on-the-rooftops, I-will-never-give-this-up-for-Lent (Sorry God) meat lover, pork and beef are my poisons of choice (though I occasionally can go cold turkey on meat and go vegetarian once in a while).
My father, though a businessman by profession, is a fisherman at heart. He graduated with a degree in fisheries. Yes, there is a university degree for fishing! And he is an advocate of the fisheries industry back home, defender of the Philippine seas and the hardworking humble fisherman. He is a hardcore fish person, while I am not.
I eat fish, but hardly ever. And this anti-fishism of mine is quite blasphemous in the family, considering that my father is a passionate fisherman through and through. At home, I am infamous for “busog ako” (I am stuffed) tactics even if my tummy was wild with hunger. Or when I am forced to sit at the dinner table, I settle with eating ripe mangoes with rice. Quite tasty really. It was definitely much better than having to eat my way through a bony fish. Ugh. I hate bony fish. Unless the fish is boneless or in fillet form, I won’t touch it. I won’t give it a chance.
But today, I ate fish…a bony fish in fact!
I had no choice, but to put on my brave, adventurous foodie hat, despite my despise for fish, and cheerfully accompany Arva in her mission to eat Iraqi fish. I didn’t even know that Iraq was famous for fish and it must be that special to be ordered at least an hour in advance, so the adventure was so on!
But before I share more about our Iraqi fish adventure, let me take you down food memory lane *insert flashback music here* Back home in the Philippines, there are seafood restaurants that have large aquariums of live fresh fish, peacefully swimming awaiting their tasty demise in the kitchens to be served to hungry customers. The live fish were very hypnotic for customers of all sorts, including the anti-fish me, perhaps their way of saying “Eat me. I am fresh and yummy.” But nah, it didn’t work for me, I managed to squirm my way out of eating fish. Every single time. When there’s a anti-fish will, there’s a way.
Now back to present time *insert return to present day music here* At Al Baghdadi Iraqi restaurant in Deira, the fishies danced to a different hypnotic beat. They danced on a bed of hot coals and a mountain of blazing fire, while balanced on aluminum foil covered sticks behind a glass wall. How is that for a hypnotizing aquarium? Sure beats them live fresh any day. This upped the ante for the Iraqi fish. It really better be damn good, growled the anti-fish tummy.
To prep our hungry tummies for the meal we contentedly munched on the vegetable sidings: fresh sliced cucumber and tomato triangles, cucumber in a spiced yoghurt bath, pickled chilies, gherkins and olives plus more sliced raw veggies. I really liked the pickles, which were surprisingly not sweet (as I only know sweet pickles which we add so generously to chicken macaroni salad), so my toesies were already crossed praying the fish would be legendary.
The servers then laid down a behemoth 2-kg fish named Masgouf on the table. It was a GINORMOUS fish for two sweet and dainty lady food bloggers. We actually had to move from a table for two to the table for four because the fish would not fit table for two. It was that BIG. We were hungry but certainly not famished enough to devour the monster of a fish. So thank God for the concept of take away.
We dived ever so gracefully into the Masgouf, butterflied on the serving plate with its spine protruding through its golden grilled flesh. I removed the bones before stuffing the steaming flesh into my mouth.
I told you, I hate them bones for good reason: I didn’t like any stuck to my teeth or, worse, my throat. Then I took a deep breath and ate a piece of bone-free bony Masgouf fish. Hurrah!
Texture? Check. It was quite meaty. Taste? It was well cooked, but there was something missing from the Masgouf…
I took a quartered lemon, while Arva grabbed the bottle of vinegar. Then we both showered the fish with the two acids. After tasting the acid-washed fish, we both took the salt shaker and just shook the hell away. But still, there something was missing from the Masgouf…
We asked the kind waiter (who explained that the fish was a fresh water fish shipped all the way from Iran) if they had anything tomato-ey to go with the Masgouf. Instead of a tomato something, we got a plate of spiced mango chutney, which was so spicy that it obliterated the freshness of the fish on our palates. There was really something missing from the Masgouf…
“Should we order something else? A kebab perhaps? Or maybe an appetizer? Let’s ask for the menu.” Arva babbled as I stared into the barely half-eaten, 2-kg mammoth of a grilled fish. There was something missing and I just couldn’t pin it down!
We almost gave up on the menu, going through each item the restaurant offered. I was ready to surrender, accept fish defeat and walk away towards a tasty dessert to mask my fish-appointment. Until Arva noticed this particular menu item: “fish stuffing” We decided to order it to accompany our leftover fish and just walkaway (after a 30-minute wait). Maybe this wasn’t another good restaurant day for us. Shucks.
When we got to Arva’s place to split the Masgouf spoils, we decided to try this “fish stuffing” Lo and behold, as we rummaged through the aluminum foil container, the tomato-ey something we were looking for! This was it! Simmered down tomatoes, onions and unidentifiable spices (at least for me), which was the perfect match for the Masgouf.
As they’ve said, give fish a chance. I am willing to as long as they pair and serve it with the right tomato-ey somethings, even with the additional 30-minute wait 🙂
Al Baghdadi Iraqi restaurant is along Al Muteena street (near Sheraton Deira and a branch of Karachi Dardar) in Deira, Dubai UAE. Please call them an hour in advance for any orders of Masgouf. Call them at +9714273-7064. Do yourself a HUGE favor by ordering the Masgouf with fish stuffing.
Delirious about delicious,
P.S. Can somebody name the kind of fish used in Masgouf? Papa? 🙂
UPDATE (March 19, 2012): According to my fish expert, my papa –
“The (masgouf) is definitely a fish dish in the Iraq,Syria and is popular even with the Shephardic Jews and is made of Common Carp, Cyprinius carpio theeancestor of the goldfish…Possibly something that Abram (Ibrahim,Abraham) ate in the area of the Tigris Euphrates region or Messopotamia. (In the Philippines, this fish is) fairly common in Laguna Llake…introduced species but common in Europe and China…vegetarian and grows quite large.”
P.P.S. If you know the Filipino P and F deficiency, you’d totally get the saying “Give fish a chance.” 😉