Salaam! HookahMan
“Oh! hookah of the magic bowl,
Thou dost bring me greatest pleasure,
Who likes not thee, hath not a soul,
And can know of joy no measure.”

For several months the hookah served as an icebreaker as I worked my way around the Middle East. Embracing the culture, I learned to appreciate the traditions and social norms attached to this symbol of community.

While the beginnings of this exotic device are unclear, several sources from the 16th century mention a “water pipe” being used in Persia and India. I assume the new pastime caught on quickly considering the popular hookah bars and countless smokers you come across anywhere in the region. I’d see whole families park their car, break out their hookah, sometimes alongside a portable grill, and whip up a kebab while smoking away, right on the side of the road. How damn cool is that!

In the States we have a habit to associate ALL smoking devices with marijuana or some paraphernalia. To tack taboo on the alien. It’s a shame as the hookah serves, more than anything else, as a way for people to congregate in a respectable setting, over civil discourse and a glass of tea, a game of backgammon or simply to gossip. I try to liken the experience to going out for a drink, but that usually leads to drunken debauchery… at least in my case (not really)… Moving forward!

In the image below we have the deconstructed skeletal remains of one hookah. On the left you see the hose. This specimen was a gift I collected in Jordan, Bedouin in style of red velvet and gold ornamentation. On the right side we have the stem, which consists of an air valve, a port for the hose and at the top, a tray for ash and the port for the bowl, which you see at the bottom of the image where the “sheesha” or tobacco is placed. Finally we have the vase, basically a reservoir for water in which the smoke, after passing through the stem, bubbles through the water and passes to the hose.


Aside from the body all that’s needed for a good time… is a piece of charcoal and a dollop of molasses soaked tobacco.

I’m not terribly familiar with the various heat sources you can apply as charcoal has always been available to me. Apparently there are other materials you can use which produce a carbon free smoke and cut out any toxins, such as coconut based coal.


Widely known as sheesha or “mu’assel” in Arabic, the tobacco used in smoking hookah is a product of sweet alchemy. Two vastly unique ingredients coming together in perfect unison. Dried tobacco forms the base ingredient which is flavored with a small amount of dried herbs or fruit. The mixture is then covered in honey or molasses before being macerated with a low amount of glycerol to maintain the needed moisture.

“Nakhla” seems to be the preferred brand of sheesha, smoked across the globe. Translating to “Palm”, they supply an army of 50+ flavors. Here I’m sticking with the old standby “Double Apple”.


The bowl, sitting snug atop the stem, is packed with sheesha then covered in foil, which acts as a medium between the wet tobacco and the hot coal.

With a setup like this a typical “session” can run about an hour. In 60 minutes traditions and language barriers become a thing of the past.


Not ready to give up my new pastime i’ve been seeking out hookah bars across Kansas City, finding authentic experiences here and unsavory there. I’m happy with the trend thats caught fire as Middle Eastern cafes pop up and the hookah emerges from the East.

If you’re ever in the area I highly recommend paying a visit to these flagships of sheesha culture in the States.

Aladdin Cafe– Exquisite Mediterranean fare and hookah on demand

Hookah Haven– Open late into the night H.Haven serves as more of a club. A lounge for watching the game over hookah, rather than the typical PBR.

Istanbul, Turkey- My 22nd birthday. Breezing through a lemon/mint concoction. Here you see me with the self proclaimed “Hookah King”.


Aqaba, Jordan- This has to be one of my favorite pictures from the Middle East. On a beach in Aqaba I befriended a gang of hookah enthusiasts who, after passing the initiation, let me join them in the rounds.


As you see below, not much has changed!

Scene from a coffee shop is Istanbul, 1905
Sourced from Wikipedia

Whether in NYC or Istanbul, I would love to hear about your experiences smoking sheesha!

-Yallah, bye


14 responses to “Hookah of the Magic Bowl”

  1. We managed to find a hookah/shisha bar in almost every country we have visited, even small cities here and there around the world and in the five continents. We even found one in Rurrenabaque in rural amazonian Bolivia.


  2. Love hookah! Also, love the vintage photo.

    The Czech Republic has a great cultural establishment of the tea house. They serve top notch tea with all the accompaniments AND hookah. I would go all the time to hang out in a relaxed but social environment when I was living there. It’s probably the thing I miss the most. If you’re in that neck of the woods check it out!

    It’s a shame there’s so many unsavory hookah bars in the states 😦 Glad you’ve found some good ones in your area!

    About the coals, I use the all natural ones. They’re a pain to light, but you don’t have to worry about smelling like lighter fluid or setting of your carbon-monoxide detector (true story, I was smoking hookah with a friend and the whole building had to be evacuated because set off the detector.)

    After having tried almost every brand on the market at least once, I personally think the American brands like Starbuzz, Social Smoke and Tangiers produce the best shisha. Obviously they’re not as traditional, but for the best smoking experience they win.

    Do you have an experience with dokha smoking in your travels? I see it’s starting to make an appearance in the US.


    1. I’ll have to experiment with some of the American brands. Also, need to look into getting natural alternatives for the coals i’ve been using- stinking carbon masses that give me a headache… I should really just get rid of that crap!

      Haha, the Czech Republic. I had this inexplicable obsession with Czech culture as a kid; something about the architecture, the language. It’s by far the most interesting European nation, to me. And now, they’re smoking hookah, what a great way to relax after a day of serious travel. 😉

      Thanks for the feedback and for reaching out to me!


  3. I started smoking shisha in NYC when it was fairly new and the thing that the “cool kids” were doing. Living in Spain introduced me to the culture of it and I started to love it. I’ve now discovered that it is everywhere. I’ve smoked in the U.S., the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Argentina, and Bolivia. I find it fascinating that what was before a regional/cultural practice is now shared universally by everyone.

    Also, peach. Always peach.


  4. Walla grape with mint is the best 🙂 Double apple is a good second, I suppose.


    1. You know what? I’m going to give grape a try this weekend. I feel like it would compliment the weather here in Midwest America. Thanks for reading and I appreciate your recommendation.


  5. Hi,

    Thanks for liking my post about my recent trip to Sapa. Btw, I’ve smoked my hookah in Sapa. How awesome is Vietnam!?!


  6. It seems good. What ever is shared by the admin is nice and unique. Thanks for sharing the same.


  7. When we were traveling in Egypt many moons again, we heard that the hookah was invented so that men could still enjoy smoking but also live by the tenet in the Koran that no tobacco should touch their lips. Have you heard that ? Very interesting blog. Namaste. . . .


    1. That seems to be a common theme among hookah smokers practicing Islam. What an ingenious way to go about it. The region isn’t known for their advances in mathematics and engineering for nothing! Did you have a chance to partake? Did you come across many hookah smokers in India? I thank you for taking the time to read my post. Namaste.


      1. We met a lovely man took us to a thousand year old farm village for a day. At one home , the men we sitting in the courtyard smoking hash in a hookah. David had smoked in college but he didn’t want to in this situation . Moslem the man who brought us asked if David drank and he said yes. He said it was the same . David said he didn’t smoke tobacco or anything else. That seemed to satisfy him! Me smoke . . . No. . Not Anne Bell good citizen! That was why my family was shocked on my vote !


  8. I love this post, but double apple, really?
    Double apple tastes like cough medicine!
    My current favourite is kiwi, lemon and mint.


  9. Civil society at its best, people enjoying themselves in their own way without hurting others. Watch out for the the regulators and do-gooders who will soon be on to the practice and tax it and regulate it to oblivion 🙂


  10. Wow! Awesome post! It’s been too long since I’ve smoked hookah.


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