Hookah History

              A hookah, shisha or arkileh, nargilah or ghelyan is a single or multi-stemmed (often glass-based) water pipe for smoking. Originally from India, it has gained popularity, especially in the Arab world, particularly under the Ottoman Empire. A hookah operates by water filtration and indirect heat. It can be used for smoking herbal fruits.
Depending on locality and supply, hookahs may be referred to by many names, often of Arabic, Indian, Turkic, Uzbek, or Persian origin. Nargila is the name most commonly used in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, Israel, Albania, Bosnia, Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Bulgaria and Romania, although the initial "n" is often dropped in Arabic pronunciation. Narghile derives from the Persian word nargil, meaning coconut, and in turn from the Sanskrit narikela, suggesting that early hookahs were hewn from coconut shells.
Shisha , from the Persian word shishe, meaning glass, is the common term for the hookah in Egypt, the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf (including Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, UAE, and Saudi Arabia), and in Morocco, Tunisia, Somalia and Yemen.
In Iran, hookah is called ghalyun , ghalyun, or ghalyan, and in India and Pakistan the name most similar to the English hookah is used: huqqa. The more colloquial terms "hubble-bubble" and "hubbly-bubbly" are used by Red Sea tourists.
The commonness of the Indian word "hookah" in English is a result of the British Raj, the British dominion of India (1858–1947), when large numbers of expatriate Britons first sampled the water-pipe. William Hickey, shortly after arriving in Kolkata, India, in 1775, wrote in his Memoirs:
"The most highly-dressed and splendid hookah was prepared for me. I tried it, but did not like it. As after several trials I still found it disagreeable, I with much gravity requested to know whether it was indispensably necessary that I should become a smoker, which was answered with equal gravity, "Undoubtedly it is, for you might as well be out of the world as out of the fashion. Here everybody uses a hookah, and it is impossible to get on without" [... I] have frequently heard men declare they would much rather be deprived of their dinner than their hookah."


Arab world

In the Arab world, social smoking is done with a single or double hose, and sometimes even more numerous. When the smoker is finished, either the hose is placed back on the table signifying that it is available, or it is handed from one user to the next, folded back on itself so that the mouthpiece is not pointing at the recipient. Nasser al-Din Shah Qajar, Shah of Persia (1848-1896) is reputed to have considered a hookah mouthpiece pointed at him an insult. Another tradition is that the recipient taps or slaps the previous smoker on the back of the hand while taking it, as a sign of respect or friendship.
In cafés and restaurants, however, it is rare for each smoker not to order an individual hookah, as the price is generally low, ranging from USD 2 to USD 15.
Most cafés (Arabic:, transliteration: maqha, translation: coffee shop) in the Middle East offer hookahs. Cafés are widespread and are amongst the chief social gathering places in the Arab world (akin to public houses have in Britain). Some expatriate Britons arriving in the Middle East adopt shisha cafés to make up for the lack of pubs in the region, especially where prohibition is in place.


In Iran, the hookah is known as a ghalyun. It is similar in many ways to the Arabic hookah but has its own unique attributes. An example is the top part of the ghalyoun called 'sar', where the tobacco is placed, is bigger than the ones seen in Turkey. Also the major part of the hose is flexible and covered with soft silk or cloth while the Turkish make the wooden part as big as the flexible part.
There are mouthpieces called 'Amjid' that each person has his own personal one, usually made of wood or metal and decorated with valuable or other stones. Amjids are only used for their fancy look. However, all the Hookah Bars have plastic mouth-pieces.
Use of water pipes in Iran can be traced back to the Qajar period. In those days the hoses were made of sugar cane. Persians had a special tobacco called Khansar. The charcoals would be put on the Khansar without foil. Khansar has less smoke than the normal tobacco.
The smoking of hookah is very popular with the young people in Iran, if you go to a local coffee shop you will most probably see a large amount of young people smoking hookahs.
The hookah was, until recently, served to all ages; Iranian officials have since passed a law forbidding its use by those under 20.


In Turkey, hookah is smoked on a social basis, usually in one's home with guests or in a cafe with friends. Most cities have hookah cafes where hookah is offered with a non-alcoholic drink (mainly tea). This is mostly for health reasons rather than cultural reasons. Often people will smoke hookah after dinner as a replacement for cigarettes. In bigger cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and Adana, restaurants may have dinner and hookah specials which include meal, beverage (alcoholic/non-alcoholic), Turkish coffee, and hookah.
Once the centre of Istanbul's social and political life, the hookah is considered one of life's great pleasures by the locals today. In certain parts of the country, people use hookah cafes to watch popular TV shows, national sports games, etc. and smoke hookah to socialize.


Smoking hookah is a not only a tradition, but culture. In Israel, the hookah is prevalent among Middle Eastern Jewish immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Turkey and Yemen (collectively known as Mizrahi Jews). Hookah use is also common in the Arab home where families will commonly smoke after a large meal or at a family gathering. Hookahs are becoming increasingly popular within Israel particularly among tourists. Shops selling paraphernalia can be found on most high streets and markets. Most nightclubs also have hookahs. In 2005, due to an increase in use among youth, a campaign was launched by The Israel Cancer Association warning against the hazards of hookah smoking, and the IDF has forbidden the use of hookahs by soldiers within its bases.


In Afganistan, hookah has been popular, especially in Kabul, for some time. In Afghanistan, it is better known as "chillam".
In America, Many Afghans own their own hookah set at home but do not smoke publicly. It has been a long tradition to Afghans to smoke all together with family and friends on special occasions.


In India, where it originated, the hookah or Hukkah (correct local spelling) is becoming better known, and cafés and restaurants that offer it as a consumable are popular. The use of hookahs from ancient times in India was not only a custom, but a matter of prestige. Rich and landed classes would smoke hookahs. Tobacco is smoked in hookahs in many villages as per traditional customs. Smoking molasses in a hookah is now becoming popular amongst the youth in India. It is a growing trend amongst youngsters and adolescents. There are several chain clubs, bars and coffee shops in India offering a variety of hookahs. The new trends emerging are that of non-tobacco hookahs with herbal flavors. Several modern restaurants are famous for this.
Ironically, the hukkah originated in India, but was quite downmarket and only smoked in rural areas until about 3 years ago, when the youth took to it with a vengeance because it was suddenly hip again due to its widespread acceptance in Europe.There are many flavors in hookah like mint,chocolate,strawberry,etc. These flavors do not always contain tobacco.


In Pakistan, although traditionally prevalent in rural areas for generations, hookahs have become very popular in the cosmopolitan cities. Many clubs and cafes are offering them and it has become quite popular amongst the youth and students in Pakistan. This form of smoking has become very popular for social gatherings, functions, and events. There are a large number of cafes and restaurants offering a variety of hookahs.


With the increase of the Persian and the Arab community, Malaysia too has seen an increase in hookah use and cafes offering hookah more commonly known as shisha.


In the Philippines, the popularity is vastly growing, in the capital's most cosmopolitan city, Makati; various high-end bars and clubs offer hookahs to patrons.
Although hookah use has been common for hundreds of years and enjoyed by people of all ages, it has just begun to become a youth-oriented pastime in Asia in recent times. Hookahs are most popular with college students and teenagers, who may be underage and thus unable to purchase cigarettes.

South Africa

In South Africa, hookah, colloquially known as a hubbly bubbly, is popular amongst the Cape Malay, Indian population, where it is smoked as a social pastime. However, hookah is seeing increasing popularity with white South Africans, especially the youth. Hookah bars are relatively uncommon, and smoking is normally done at home or in public spaces such as beaches and picnic sites.
In South Africa, the terminology of the various hookah components also differ from other countries. The clay "head/bowl" is known as a "clay pot". The hoses are called "pipes" and the air release valve is known, strangely, as a "clutch".
Some scientists point to the dagga pipe as an African origin of hookah.


In Spain, the use of the hookah has recently increased in popularity. They are usually readily available to smoke at prices between 5-10€ at tea-oriented coffeehouses, called teterías in Spanish, which are often run by Arab immigrants or have some other sort of affinity with the east. Hookah pipes are usually sold at prices between €10 and €70, and hookah tobacco and charcoal is easily found in those same coffee houses, or at stores run by eastern immigrants. Immigrants and native Spanish alike enjoy this custom, and it is usually seen as a lighter way of smoking than cigarettes. Buying one's own tobacco and hookah can be noticeably less expensive than ordering hookahs at a coffee house.
Hookahs are also becoming increasingly popular in Moscow and other Russian cities. Many bars employ a "hookah man" or "niam" which is commonly pronounced "ni-eem" (Russian: ?????????, tr. kal'yanshchik), often of middle-eastern appearance and wearing an approximation of Arab or Turkish costume, to bring the pipes to customers' tables and wrappings may be provided to each person at the table for hygiene reasons.
Hookahs are popular in Kyiv as well and other Ukrainian cities.
Hookah smoking has also risen in popularity in Germany, particularly in Berlin and Cologne, where many hookah bars exist due in part to a relatively large Turkish population. Hookahs are also very easy to acquire. During the 2006 World Cup, many booths in the area outside of the Zoologischer Garten Bahnhof specialized in selling the water-pipes and flavored tobacco. In addition, many people create homemade hookahs due to the relative ease of construction and the high cost of a quality pipe. Hookah (locally called Shisha) bars are even commonly found in towns with just 100,000 inhabitants.
In Italy, hookah bars are still not so common, but their number is increasing, as hookah (usually known only as narghilè) smoking is currently gaining favor and seen as less dangerous and irritating for other nearby than cigarettes (yet, it is covered by the no smoke in public locals law if not for dedicated places or rooms). There used to be a ban by the Italian government on wet and fruit flavored tobacco, but this ban has been abolished since the production of tobacco in Italy is not limited anymore to the Monopolio di Stato. Italy is now, in fact, a producer itself of high quality hookah tobacco. It is legal in Switzerland.
In Sweden, as well as Norway, hookah smoking is on the rise. Cheap hookahs and hookah-related products, like tobacco and charcoal, are now available in the many kiosk-like businesses run by immigrants, mostly of middle-eastern origin, found in the larger cities. Hookahs are mostly used by teenagers and immigrants, but the use is slowly becoming more widespread. Hookah bars and similar establishments are still very rare though, in part due to anti-smoking laws which forbids smoking in restaurants and in public buildings.
In the Czech Republic, hookah is relatively common in many tearooms (usually cost between 100 and 150 CZK). Hookahs are usually sold in specialized orient-shops and tearooms at prices mostly between 500 and 2500 CZK. Local names for hookah are "šíša", "vodnice", "vodár", "vodní dýmka", etc.
In Lithuania (named "kaljanas") it's popular between young and middle age people. There are some special bars where you could smoke it or usually people own hookah at home. It cost's from 30-200 euros. It's very common gift for friends.
Hookah ('vesipiip' in Estonian, 'vizipipa' in Hungarian) has also gained major popularity in Estonia and Hungary amongst teenagers, where it has caused controversy amongst the troubled parents.

United Kingdom

In England, as of 2007, Hookah cafes (sometimes known locally as "Shisha Bars") exist in most major cities. London's Edgware Road area is noted for a high distribution of shops which serve hookah, but there is at least one hookah place to be found in most cities in the south, including Canterbury, Portsmouth, Bristol, Salisbury, Exeter, and Plymouth.
Until July of 2007, hookahs could be smoked inside any public place. But after smoking was banned inside public places by the government, hookahs are only allowed to be smoked outside. There are, however, a few exceptions to this. If the building has three areas of ventilation, such as two walls with windows and a roof with a skylight that can be opened, then it can be smoked inside. Because England has a somewhat rainy and cool climate, this can present a challenge to outdoor hookah smoking sessions.
Hookah is often found in Indian restaurants but is most commonly found in Lebanese restaurants and Egyptian-run "hubbly-bubbly" bars. Concentrations of these hookah establishments are often found in close proximity to University campuses, as on Rusholme's Curry Mile in Manchester or in Oxford, and they cater to a mixture of British and Middle-Eastern clientele amongst students. A ban on public smoking was enacted in Scotland in 2006, and a similar ban has taken effect in England on July 1st 2007. Hookah bars have since been closed, as there is a complete ban of smoking in enclosed public areas; however, some businesses have remained open, functioning as normal cafés....


In Mexico hookah bars have gained popularity in recent years becoming a popular trend among young people. Some places are simply hookah cafes, while others are night-clubs offering hookah along with alcoholic beverages. They are often located at fashion zones like La Condesa or Santa Fe, two of the richest neighborhoods in Mexico City. The increasing popularity of the hookah is also due to the Middle Eastern immigrant families that have been settled in Mexico for some time now. The smoking of the hookah has also become a social past time for week end afternoons. Although there is an increasing demand for hookah there are still few places that offer this pleasure. Unlike in Middle Eastern countries it is not habitual to smoke a hookah while, or immediately after a dinner. The smoking of hookah is done later usually in the late afternoon, and very commonly use alcoholic beverages (such as vodka or tequila) as filters instead of the traditional usage of water.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, hookah pipes are considered by the Government to be a prohibited import. This is as a result of people using the pipes to administer cannabis and is made illegal by an Act of Parliament under the Misuse of Drugs (Prohibition of Cannabis Utensils and Methamphetamine) Notice 2003.

Structure and operation


Excluding grommets, a hookah is usually made of five components, four of which are essential for its operation.

The bowl

Also known as the head of the hookah, the bowl is a container, usually made out of clay or marble, that holds the coal and tobacco during the smoking session. The bowl is loaded with tobacco then covered in a small piece of perforated tin foil or a metal screen. Lit coals are then placed on top, which allows the tobacco to heat to the proper temperature.


The hose is a slender tube that allows the smoke to be drawn. The end is typically fitted with a metal, wooden, or plastic mouthpiece.

Body, Gasket, Valve

The body of the hookah is a hollow tube with a gasket at its bottom. The gasket itself has at least one opening for the hose. The gasket seals the connection of the body of the hookah with the water jar. The gasket may have an additional opening with a valve for clearing the smoke from the water jar rather than through the hose. In some cases the gasket may contain openings for more than one hose.

Water jar

Placed at the bottom of the hookah, the water jar is a container through which the smoke from the tobacco passes before it reaches the hose. By passing through water, the smoke gains moisture and is lowered in temperature. The level of the water has to be higher than the lowest point of the body's tube in order for the smoke to pass through it. Liquids other than water may be used, such as alcohol, spirit and/or fruit juice, and in many cases, ice may be put in the bottom of the jar to dramatically increase the drop in temperature, making for a smoother smoke.


The plate (ash tray) is usually just below the bowl and is used for "dead" coals from previous smoking sessions.


Grommets in a hookah are usually placed between the bowl and the body, the body's gasket and the water jar and between the body and the hose. The reason for the usage of grommets although not essential (the usage of paper or tape has become common) will help to seal the joints between the parts, therefore decreasing the amount of air coming in and maximizing the smoke breathed in.


The jar at the bottom of the hookah is filled with water sufficient to submerge a few centimeters of the body tube, which is sealed tightly to it. Tobacco is placed inside the bowl at the top of the hookah and a burning charcoal is placed on top of the tobacco. Some cultures cover the bowl with perforated tin foil to separate the coal and the tobacco, which minimizes inhalation of coal ash with the smoke.
When one inhales via the hose, air is pulled through the coal and into the bowl. The air, hot from the charcoal, roasts the tobacco, producing smoke. This smoke passes down through the body tube, which extends into the water in the jar. It bubbles up through the water and fills the top part of the jar, to which the hose is attached. When a smoker inhales from the hose, smoke passes into the lungs, and the change in pressure in the jar pulls more air through the charcoal, continuing the process.


Tobamel A sweet substance smoked in a hookah pipe, usually containing tobacco. Tobamel is legal in Canada, United States and in Europe.



Tumbâk is word of Turkish origin and refers simply to tobacco, not necessarily flavored or sweetened. The Persian word tumbeki and the Hindi/Urdu word Tumbako are similar.


Jurâk, mainly of Indian origin, might be considered as an intermediate substance between traditional sweetened tobaccos and the fruity hookah of modern times. The term applies both to a tobacco mixture that includes fruits or aromatic oils as well as tobacco that is just sweetened.


Molasses tobacco is sold in a variety of flavors. Some of the flavors. in which it is available are derived from the addition of artificial flavorings; other manufacturers shun these. A few of the flavors. are based upon the scent of flowers. Flavors. include vanilla, coconut, rose, jasmine, honey, strawberry, watermelon, mint, cherry, orange, raspberry,apple, apricot, chocolate, licorice, coffee, grape, peach, cola, bubblegum, and others.
Blending flavors. has also become very popular amongst hookah smokers. By mixing two or more flavors. more complex tastes have been achieved. One example of a brand entirely based on blended flavors. is Hookah Freak.


A widely popular brand of Molasses tobacco is Nakhla Tobacco. Other notable brands of flavored tobacco from include: Al Waha, Al Amir, Habibi, Havana, Hookah-Hookah, Hookafina, Fantasia, Fumari, Fusion, Romman Tobacco, Starbuzz, Tangiers, Tonic, Layalina, Abajûra, El-bâshâ , El-'Esfahâny, En-nakhla, Ibyâry, Shîh 'el-beled, Zeglûl. All of these are Egyptian except for Shîh 'el-beled which is Tunisian, Fantasia, Hookah-Hookah, Starbuzz, and Tangiers which is produced in the United States, Fusion, Tonic, Al Waha, and Romman which is Jordanian, and Serbetli which is as well as Sima Sultan Turkish.
This is in addition to Bahraini molasses such as Bahraini Apple(done by local firms, and adopted by huge international hookah molasses firms such as Al Nakhla as well), and Bahraini Zeglul, and UAE Based Al Fakher molasses, which is often softer in taste than the Egyptian molasses. Today there are also numerous varieties produced in the West with more coming to market each year.
Besides being sold in little packets as is rolling tobacco, shisha is also sold in cardboard boxes and plastic jars. Packaging is generally illustrated with bright floral motifs, fruit, lush gardens and romantic images of sultans or pashas.
The relative proportions of tobacco, treacle, fruits and spices, on average, 30%, 50% and 20% respectively. The substance is generally valid for two years; boxes usually indicate the production date. Health warnings about lung cancer risks and cardiovascular disease appear on these products similar to other tobacco products elsewhere in the world.
Some manufacturers produce tobacco-free flavored herbal blends and market these as shisha as well. These herbal blends typically advertise themselves as having no tar and nicotine, thus a safer alternative that is still enjoyable. The two most prevalent brands of herbal shisha are Hookah-Hookah Black Label and Soex by Afzal. Other Distributors provide tobacco-based flavored blends as well as a variety of hookahs.