Alternative Egypt Travel Guide
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Smoking Shisha in Egypt

Smoking Shisha in Egypt

Also known as ‘hookah’, ‘nargila’ or ‘hubbly bubbly’, ‘shisha’ are the ornate, Arabian water pipes through which Egyptians while away the hours toking contentedly on fruit scented tobacco.

While ‘hookah’ or ‘nargila’ refer to the actual pipe, ‘shisha’ is the term used for the tobacco.

How do they work?

Contrary to popular belief, nothing illicit or untoward is occurring here, and the pipes are primarily used for smoking perfectly legal tobacco. The tobacco is perfumed (in one of a number of flavours, usually apple) and pressed into a detachable pipe top which is subsequently wrapped in foil. The foil is pierced with tiny holes and fixed in place at the top of the pipe. Hot white coals are then balanced on the foil.

In a similar principle to any other pipe or smoking device, the smoker pulls on the mouth pieces drawing the heat into the tobacco. The perfumed smoke then commences its journey to the inhaler’s lungs, on route passing through the base of the pipe which is filled with water. This water cools the smoke, removing the harshness and giving the impression of being ‘smooth’ or ‘weak’ to the first time user.

Rest assured shisha smoke contains at least as much nicotine, tar and other nasties as cigarette tobacco.

Ordering a Shisha

Egyptians usually smoke apple flavoured shisha. While the tobacco is also available in other flavours such as water melon, strawberry, orange and even coffee, these are generally just for tourists. To order an apple flavoured shisha say:

Wahad shisha tufa min fudluck’ (One apple shisha please)

For other flavours substitute the word ‘tufa’ for one of the following:

Farawalah’ - strawberry

Batieth’ – water melon

Boutoqal’ - orange

When presented with the Shisha pipe you will usually also be provided with a plastic nozzle individually wrapped. For hygiene purposes, attach this to the pipe mouthpiece.

A bit of aggressive toking will get the tobacco going, after which you can sit back and smoke at your own pace. At any shisha café worth its salt, the waiter will ensure that the pipe is already burning nicely before handing it over to you.

Shisha pipes can take more than an hour to smoke in their entirety. When the smoke stops coming, it is not necessarily over – more like halftime. Request that the waiter brings more coals, the addition of which will breathe new life back into the pipe. Again, any decent shisha café will pre-empt this and top up your coals like a French waiter refilling your wine glass.

Shisha is good to smoke alone, or with company and forms the basis of much Egyptian social life. Shisha cafes are ubiquitous in Egypt and especially prevalent where there is a view, such as along the sea front in Alexandria or besides the Nile in Aswan. For those that want to take their new (life shortening) hobby home with them, shisha pipes are available to buy from any Egyptian souq.

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