If you find yourself in the Middle East or in an Arabic speaking country, you're more than likely to see a hookah (Shisha in Arabic). Foreigners are often taken back when they first see the hookah pipe, not quite sure what it is. A hookah pipe is a long water pipe that uses heated coals to heat water and extract the flavor out of tobacco or fruits. The tobacco is often fruit flavored with flavors ranging from strawberry, apple, to banana.
Hookah smoking isn't done for the love of tobacco though. Smoking is done as a social event in order to get friends to bond. Cigarette smoking is common in Arab countries but because the smoke from hookahs is not inhaled, it does not fight the cravings. Instead, hookah smoke is just rolled around in the mouth to get the flavor from the tobacco and then exhaled. It is relaxing and an enjoyable activity to do when in the company of others.
Cafes are often the most popular spot to get hookahs. By combining snack foods and a light beverage, the relaxing environment of a small coffee shop allows for people to unwind from a hard day. While the hookah was originally intended for the smoking of cannabis, many countries still ban its use; so don't expect to be able to find any to smoke. The tobacco can be replaced with other things such as fruit to achieve the same effect of a flavorful smoke that enters the body.
Don't be ashamed if locals chuckle at you after your first go around with a hookah either. With a little friendliness, they will be glad to help and get you on your way. When entering a coffee shop to smoke a hookah, you're going to need to make sure that you get a clean mouthpiece. Because hookahs are used communally, a clean mouthpiece is a must. You can rent the hookah and get some tobacco, that usually lasts about fifteen to twenty minutes, for a nominal fee.
For those that wish to purchase a hookah, Middle Eastern countries are usually laden with open-air markets. Ask the locals how much you should pay for a decent sized hookah and see if you can get one for yourself. Smoking a hookah is definitely an enlightening experience for anyone visiting a Middle Eastern country and will allow for a lot of story telling when you make it back home. And while hookahs are common in the Middle East, they haven't quite become popular in other parts of the world. You may be able to find a hookah shop that evades local smoking bans, but their prevalence in the Middle-East is unsurpassed.