The Hookah High: Everything You Need To Know

A guy smoking Hookah in IstanbulThe first time I smoked the Hookah was in Istanbul, Turkey. I had been wandering the cobblestone streets by the sea when yet another shopkeeper invited me in for a cup of apple tea.

Though I was already buzzing from countless similar invitations, I thought it would be rude to refuse and so I entered what appeared to be a dodgy looking travel agency. Dominating the only table in the room was a large ornate glass Hookah.

While I had seen Hookahs in smoke shops and in films back home, I had no idea how it worked or, more importantly, what it smoked.


Noticing my curiosity he said, “You want to make Hookah?” I smiled hesitantly and responded, “Umm, ok, well, what’s in…” Abruptly he cut me off and proclaimed, “Ok, we make Hookah!”

Nervous yet intrigued, I took the hose and began to smoke. “Breath deep” he said as I felt the tickle of the apple-flavored smoke on the back of my throat.  When my lungs could take no more, I began to exhale.

smoking a hookahTo my surprise, a seemingly endless mushroom cloud of thick white smoke bellowed out of me.  Startled and gitty over the amount of smoke, I began to chuckle. “That’s good” I said as I looked at my host. He beamed happily at me, content in my contentment.

However just as soon as I passed the hose back to him, the world around me began to wobble. Instinctively, I feebly attempted to dominate the insecurity while anxiety ensued. But it was no use. With no other choice, I allowed myself to succumb to the hookahs hypnosis. And I was glad I did.

Over the next few minutes, I began to enjoy the feeling of instability. I felt high and happy yet completely relaxed and lethargic. It was like nothing I had ever felt.

From that moment on, I was hooked on the Hookah.

Over the course of my travels throughout the Middle East, I indulged in the Hookah countless more times. However, it was only until I returned to the western world did I endeavor to learn more about my new guilty pleasure.

The History Of The Hookah

two guys enjoying hookah in cairoSince ancient times, the soothing smoke of the Hookah has coaxed even the most irate turban sporting shower abstaining cab driver (or donkey Jockey) into sublime submission to Allah.

Joking aside, the Hookah is believed to have developed in northwestern India around 1000 years ago. It was initially believed to have been constructed from wood and coconuts. And it’s primary purpose at the time was as a medium for smoking opium and hashish.

However, as it moved westward into Persia, it’s design was refined and the smoking of a dark tobacco known as “Tombeik” was adopted. Today, from downtown Delhi, to the corner cafes of Cairo, the Hookah is a salient centerpiece throughout the Middle East.

However, due to the evolution of the hookah as it traversed the Middle East, the Hookah now assumes many different names depending on ones locality. In Turkey, for example, it is know as “Narghile,” and in Jordan it goes by “Arghile.” Both of which are incarnations of the Sanskrit word for coconut. Finally in Egypt it is called “Shisha.”

So why do we use he word Hookah in English?  As one might expect, the Hookah received its name after the butchering of an Indian word by a colonial Briton.

While the name may vary across countries there is one customary feature that persists throughout. That being, the Hookah is almost always accompanied by a very sugary cup of tea.

The Hookah & Hashish

kids smoking hashish from a hookahThroughout much of the Middle East, smoking Hashish is technically illegal and also against Islamic law. In the result, most Hookah bars will not offer Hashish. However, depending on how liberal the country, if you really want to smoke hashish, generally all you have to do is ask. More, it is not uncommon to find people smoking Marijuana or Hashish from the Hookah in their homes. Today, like the past, hashish remains a popular Hookah ingredient despite the laws against it.

The Hookah & Health

Like cigarette tobacco, the coal roasted, molasses covered, fruit flavored tobacco distinct to the Hookah is addictive. While some argue that the reduced frequency of Hookah vs cigarette usage makes it less harmful, other contend that long Hookah sessions make it more dangerous. Either way, any type or amount of smoke inhaled into ones lungs is detrimental to ones health. Therefore it is best to indulge in the Hookah with moderation.

How To Buy Your Own Hookah

Screen Shot 2015-08-11 at 16.53.40If you are in Europe or the US, you may have noticed a variety of Hookahs at your local smoke shop. However, if you aren’t into paying a few hundred dollars and are willing to wait a week or two, ordering online is your best bet.

A large and high quality Hookah direct from Egypt will only set you back around 50$. While there are many sites you can buy a Hookah from amazon is usually the cheapest and easiest option.


Let Me Know What You Think!

  1. Luc says

    I am in Cairo now and want to find a good deal on a quality hookah. Any suggestions?
    Also, are you currently in Egypt or elsewhere? I would like to meet if you are in Cairo.

    • says

      Hey Luc, be sure to bargain, a lot. You can get quality hookahs in Cairo for as little as 15-20$. I’m not in Cairo at the moment unfortunately. Drink some sugar cane juice for me. :)

  2. Anja says

    We call it “shisha” and I absolutely love it :)
    I first smoked it in Tunisia at the age of 15, my father was sitting next to me and even asked my younger sister if she would like to try it :D oh and he bought me and my brother one :)

  3. Liz says

    My grandma went to Egypt two years ago and came back with a hookah for my cousin. At Thanksgiving she gave everyone the presents she bought for him. She pulled out the hookah for my cousin and before I knew it, I was smoking a hookah with my family in the middle of grandma’s living room on thanksgiving at age 15.

    Ever since, I have been determined to have a small Egyptian hookah in my living room as soon as I move out.

    I love your blog. Thank for the travel tips!

  4. Bianca says

    :D In South Africa we call it a “Hubbly” and almost every young person has one. The best part is mixing flavours and then making your own unique “brand” haha and then also blowing amazing smoke rings and pretending to be a dragon.

  5. says

    I first tried smoking hookah while working in Iraq. It’s a great socializing tool and yes, I made the chai. Have read one study that a full hookah session is equivalent to smoking 40 cigarettes. :-) Yeah hookah can be a lot of fun for sure especially if you just want to chill for a bit and watch the people walk by.

    • says

      I hear ya. Hookah is great for socializing with old dudes and getting the scoop on how they feel about america and domestic politics and such. The fact that you are probably smoking 40 ciggs is the trade off :)

  6. Sarah says

    Yeah, another way to get hookahs real cheap is at flea markets – the ones I’ve seen sell them all the time. They sell small ones for $5 and the regular size is $10 and so on – but I don’t know if they sell the actual weed or anything like that (you might have to ask on the side lol).

    Anyways, awesome website – enjoyed reading it.

  7. says

    Lol my first encounter with hookah was at around 3am wandering the streets with me best friends we had been talking about trying it for a long time and when we eventually stumbled across a hookah bar we walked right in. We got the apple and ode flavor it was the best an to this day is still my favorite. It’s very relaxing.

  8. says

    We’re actually smoking our hookah that we got in Bahrain right now. It’s the only thing either of us smoke, but it’s so relaxing and I’m pretty sure it helps us write all of our posts! :) The best is mint flavor and adding a little ice in the base with the water. soooo good.

    • says

      Yeaaahhhhh, good on ya. Adding ice sounds like a good idea, nice a cool smoke. I remember filling it with apple juice once but I dont think it had any effect, just wasted a lot of apple juice. I miss Hookah now. I am heading to egypt soon and can’t wait to hookah it up and play chess with all the geezers.

  9. says

    Weird name! At first I couldn’t understand what you were talking about! In Italy we call it “narghile”, here in Egypt it is called “sheesha”! Despite the name, I love it! My favorite is grapes. And I drink, of course, tea with mint with it!

  10. says

    i havent tried this yet… ive seen a lot doing it in some bars… it smells fruity too which im not sure if i like it… great informational post leif…

  11. says

    LOL, my first go at Hookah was in Bangkok with the ‘apple’ flavor as well. I felt like a dragon breathing out smoke & loved the chilled out company I was with. This was years ago but it honestly feels just like yesterday. I can even remember where people were sitting next to me and what we talked about.

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