Sometimes called a
hookah or hubble-bubble by English
speakers, and sheesha in the Arab world, the
nargile 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 tobacco-lovers
switched to cigarettes. After World War II,
it was mostly old men who smoked nargiles.
In the late 1990s a
revived interest in all things Ottoman revived the
nargile as well, and now it seems that younger men--and
even some women--are enjoying its calming
The nargile consists of a
glass bottle (sise, SHEE-sheh)
into which a metal pipe device is placed.
The bottle is half filled with water, and a
long flexible hose (marpuç) is
attached to the pipe. Atop the pipe are a small metal tray
to catch cinders and above it a small cup-shaped bowl (lüle,
LUR-leh) to hold the tobacco.
plug of tobacco (tumbak or tömbeki)
is placed in the lüle, and a glowing
coal mangir) is placed atop the tobacco,
igniting it. (The coal is of a special type chosen for its
The smoker attaches a
mouthpiece (sipsi, SEEP-see, or
agizlik, ah-UHZZ-luhk) 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 or
tömbeki is a special dark, strong,very
high-nicotine tobacco grown near Antakya and Konya.
Don't puff 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.
Okay, those are the basics.
But "nargile culture" goes well beyond
them. Like most smoking implements, nargiles became
-- the bottle
might be made of colored glass blown into
graceful shapes, then etched
or painted or otherwise decorated
-- the flexible
hose might be embellished with embroidery
or beadwork or other woven handicraft art
-- the mouthpiece
might be of fine porcelain or--most
popularly--precious amber, and might even
be inset with gems
are much sought after and priced accordingly. (Read
the story of one in an excerpt from Bright Sun, Strong Tea.)
The down-at-heels old-men
nargile cafe is being joined by the chic set as
trendy Istanbul cafes add nargile service to go
with their espressos and lattes.