The beginner’s guide to shisha in the UAE
There is an image of a group of people lounging on low slung chairs, under a colourful tent, candles flickering lighting and hiding the faces of the people, a low murmur of conversation and laughter as the shisha pipe is passed from one to another, this image evokes the romantic and mysterious nature of the Middle East that each of us who move here are aching to experience.
An aging pensioner named Ismet Ertep famously pondered over his own shisha that,
“Cigarettes are for nervous people, competitive people, people on the run When you smoke a nargile* you have time to think. It teaches you patience and tolerance, and gives you an appreciation of good company. Nargile smokers have a much more balanced approach to life than cigarette smokers.”
This quote does seem to go to the heart of the Middle East’s fascination with the Hookah pipe, it is a way for people to sit down and converse, with no heady distractions, the perfect way to socialize and go over the order of the day.
I have been surprised how many people I meet in Dubai have yet to try shisha, for some it may all seem a little overwhelming, which flavour to choose, how you smoke it and what exactly do you call it. So here is Dine in the City’s guide to shisha and our favourite locations to try it out.
History of shisha
Water Pipes date from around 500 years ago, there is a certain amount of speculation as to the origins of the Hookah pipe, with some claiming they hail from India during the Mughal Empire; while others believe it could have come from Persia during the Safavid Dynasty. Originally made from glass they have slowly developed as they were embraced by different cultures, sometimes made from bright copper or intricately designed ceramics, they are always striking, whether in their simplicity or beauty.
As Shisha migrated across into the Middle East, through Turkey, Egypt, Morocco and the UAE, it really cemented itself in the hearts of the people. Becoming the optimum way for groups to spend time together, conversing and doing business.
How it works!
A shisha pipe is very simply a glass (or other material) vase filed with water, and a long stem submerged in the water. Above this stem is a small dish filled with hot coals heat the tobacco and create the smoke. When you suck on the pipe the smoke is drawn down the stem and through the water, creating the smooth smoking experience familiar to Shisha aficionados.
The most common type of tobacco smoked is known as Naklia Shisha, a blend of foreign tobaccos is combined with honey molasses and dried fruit, giving it that uniquely sweet scent and strong flavour. As you will see from most Dubai shisha menus the flavour options are endless, and my best advice has to be to experiment a little. However, a personal recommendation, my absolute favourite has to be apple & mint, a little bit of sweet mixed with a refreshing after taste. If it isn’t on the menu, just suggest it to your waiter; they can usually mix you up something a little special!
I have had many a conversation with people new to smoking shisha about whether you should inhale the smoke or not. After semi-extensive research I have found that this tends to be a personal preference, whilst I prefer to simply hold the smoke in my mouth, enjoying the taste, others prefer to take slow long breathes of the smoke in. So really the choice is yours!
Shisha vs. Hookah
So what exactly do all these words mean and what should you be ordering! It can be quite confusing and so many people have differing opinions about what to call a water pipe, with the most common 4 being: shisha, hookah, nargile and hubbly bubbly. Hubby Bubby is apparently more commonly used in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, while the word Nargile is used mostly in Turkey.
Hookah is the name for the pipe itself, whereas shisha refers to the flavoured tobacco, which you smoke. These two words are used interchangeably and it is really up to you, which you choose to use, however, I have found that Shisha is used more commonly in Dubai.
Where to find Shisha in the UAE
There are shisha bars dotted all over the UAE, something to cater for everyone’s taste, whether you are looking for a chic evening out or just want to watch the sun set with friends.
The newly opened NU AIR Shisha Lounge at the Rixos Hotel on the Palm is a twist on the traditional shisha bar (here’s our special coverage about NU AIR Shisha). Stark white cabanas, lit with fairy lights and quirkily modern Hookahs, filled with flowers or even gold fish…intrigued, I definitely recommend you head over for a good look! The Moroc Lounge & Bar at the Mövenpick Hotel under the iconic Ibn Battuta Mall Gate is a lovely outdoor terrace to enjoy a shisha with friends. The staff are incredibly well trained and always attentive, constantly checking on the coals and making sure you have the best possible experience.
For something with a little more of a traditional feel Amaseena at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel on JBR offers you a little taste of the Middle East, slightly hidden from prying eyes, with stunning views of the city you can enjoy a shisha during the winter months, cozied up on Bedouin style seating, watching a belly dancer and listening to traditional music. The Marina at night has to be one of the most romantic views in Dubai, twinkling lights reflected in the water, peaceful and atmospheric. Siddharta Lounge at Grosvenor House offers unparalleled views of the Dubai Marina, reserve yourself a place and lay back and enjoy an expertly prepared Hookah.