Nargile (Turkish Water Pipe)

Last Updated on April 4, 2024

In Turkey, nargile (Turkish water pipe), sometimes called a hookah or hubble-bubble by English speakers and sheesha in the Arab world, is an old way of smoking Turkish tobacco.

History of Nargile in Turkey

Originating in India and later spreading among Iranians and Arabs, it is a traditional tobacco-smoking device specific to Asian territories. Over time, it became a cultural heritage influenced by the eastern regions of the Ottoman dynasty. It was very popular during the Ottoman Empire from the 17th to the 19th centuries but saw a fall-off in demand in the Turkish Republic as water pipe tobacco usage declined in favor of cigarettes. 

After World War II, mostly older men smoked nargiles besides snuffbox. However, in the late 1990s, an interest in all things Ottoman revived the nargile as well, and now it seems that young people are enjoying its calming vapors. Due to this reason, there are lots of hookah cafes now.

How to Enjoy Nargile

Turkey has many hookah cafes where you can enjoy different types and flavors of nargile. 

Choosing the right charcoal is crucial when smoking hookah, as the taste can vary depending on the quality of the charcoal. You can try different types of charcoal based on your personal preferences. Nargiles come in different flavors, such as apple, mint, chocolate, and anything you could name, such as jellybean and cookie. 

How Does a Nargile Function?

The nargile comprises a glass bottle into which a metal pipe device is placed. The bottle is half filled with water, and a long flexible hose is attached to the pipe. Atop the pipe is a small metal tray to catch cinders, and above it is a small cup-shaped bowl to hold the tobacco. Modern smokers sometimes drop a glow stick into the bowl when smoking at night to give a soft, mellow light to the bubbling water.

A specially formed plug of tobacco (tumbak or tömbeki) is placed in the lüle, and a glowing coal (mangır) is placed atop the tobacco, igniting it. (The coal is of a special type chosen for its long-smoldering life.)

The smoker attaches a mouthpiece to the flexible hose, sucks on it, and draws tobacco smoke down through the pipe device, through the cooling water, along the flexible hose, and into the mouth.

The tumbak is a special dark, strong, very high-nicotine tobacco grown near Antakya and Konya. You shouldn't puff it as strongly as on a cigarette. Rather, suck the smoke gently and don't inhale deeply. The sucking should generate pleasant bubbling sounds in the water, which is part of the fun.

Like most smoking implements, nargiles became art objects as well. For example, the bottle may be made of colored glass blown into graceful shapes, then etched, painted, or otherwise decorated.

Moreover, the flexible hose may be embellished with embroidery,  beadwork, or other woven handicraft art. The mouthpiece may be of fine porcelain or—most popularly—precious amber and might even be inset with gems. Furthermore, antique nargiles are much sought-after and priced accordingly.

The chic set is joining the down-at-heels old-men nargile café as trendy Istanbul cafés add nargile service to go with their espressos and lattes.

-by Tom Brosnahan, updated by Duru Nemutlu

Read More:

Turkish Tobacco

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