One of my favorite ways to relax is to have a good Turkish nargile while drinking endless glasses of Turkish tea. Nargile, the famous tobacco waterpipe staple of the Middle East is finding a bigger craze than ever around the world, but there is a special feeling you get when lounging with it in Turkey. When Izmir Bay is your view, and Aegean music is playing in the background, you couldn’t ask for a better way to relax and enjoy life.
Many wonder where nargile comes from. After doing a little research, I found out that nargile was invented in India within the court of the Mughal Emperor Akbar in the 16th century. After tobacco was introduced to India from the Europeans, a physician from Baghdad raised concerns about the new plant causing health problems. Thus he designed a system where the tobacco, when smoked, was “purified”, introducing the hookah. The invention has spread among societies since then, with different names applied to it. In several Arab countries, the invention is called shisha, as the word shisha comes from the Persian (also Turkish) word shishe, which means glass. The alternative word, nargile, which means “coconut” in Farsi, possibly comes from the shape of the contraption, and is the common word that stuck in the Mediterranean, as it is called nargile in Turkey, Greece, Lebanon, and Cyprus.
Something even more interesting is how the practice of smoking this particular waterpipe has lasted throughout different empires. Going from the Mughal Empire, to the Ottoman, it managed to also survive the evolution of the nationalistic states of Turkey and its neighbors. More so, the invention has involved with time, with additional flavored tobaccos on its menu. They include apple, lemon, cantaloupe, cappuccino, vanilla, and an ever-expanding list of flavor options. How they flavor the tobacco I’m not exactly sure, but from what it looks like, it is as if they mixed the juices and some of the fruit with the tobacco, making it soft and fragrant.
I must also point out though that there is the misconception of nargile being somehow “healthier” than smoking cigarettes, cigars, and the like, but most modern studies have debunked that myth. Whether in a rolled up piece of paper or through a water hose, smoking tobacco has the same harmful effects no matter what. Thus, I’m not advocating smoking, but I do believe in trying new things, while doing others in moderation.
When in Turkey, you can find nargile in almost all the cafes, and I personally recommend cafes with a great view. My views have included Sultanahmet Camii (The Blue Mosque), Haghia Sophia, and Izmir Bay. It’s a far cry from the claustrophobic city view of New York City, where nargile has also caught on with the young crowd as well. Recommended flavors are apple, strawberry, or pineapple. The typical price is between 5-8 Lira, with one pipe being sufficient for 2 people, lasting for about an hour.
This is why I love Turkey. To this day, the global influences live and thrive within Turkish culture, and prove they are here to stay. So come on and pull up a pipe, and let the aromatic fragrance of smoked fruits fill the air.