CAIRO: Tired of loud traffic around downtown ahwas? Or over-the-top trendiness at Sequoia? Well, you can skip those places now. It’s easier than you think to enjoy shisha in your own home. A decent hookah, tobacco and coals can all be purchased for less than LE100.
The first step to at-home shisha is, of course, a trip to the hookah shop.
The easiest place to go, which also has a variety of options, is the ever-touristy Khan al-Khalili. When talking to hookah sellers, the most important piece to look at is the metal stem. It must be airtight to allow for the proper flow of smoke. Blow in each of the holes, one at a time, to make sure that air doesn’t come out of cracks in the metal or other places it shouldn’t escape.
Also, make sure it’s solid. Pick up a few of different prices to feel the difference in weight. It should not be excessively heavy, but should be weighty enough that you can’t throw it around easily. After a few comparisons, you’ll feel the difference. For material, stainless steel and brass are best.
One of my more interesting hookah-shop experiences was when Khaled, who was showing me various models, abruptly threw the stem to the ground. The loud bang startled me, but the metal stem bounced off the floor and landed undamaged, despite the harsh throw. He certainly proved the strength of his products.
As for the glass base, make sure it fits with the stem you’ve chosen and check to see that it’s not cracked and has a thick bottom. But the most important part of this is to choose a pattern you like.
Last, but not least, make sure that the vendor gives you all of the rubber seals. There should be a large one to go between the glass base and stem, a small one between the ceramic top that holds tobacco and the metal stem, and one last one to go where the hose attaches to the stem.
Most places will include tongs for the coals, a carrying case, and a few packs of tobacco and coals to get you started.
Though you can get tobacco all over the city, the best tobacco is reportedly found at Al-Nakhla. Known for its lightness, Al-Nahkla can be found all over Cairo, but the AUC ahwa owner recommends a small, nameless tobacco shop on Tahrir street, in Midan Al-Falaki, on the block between Falaki and Mansur Streets. Apple is, of course the favorite choice, but peach, apricot, and cantaloupe are also good bets.
Once you get home, preparing your hookah is no big deal. Fill the base with water so that the metal pipe is about 1 to 1.5 inches underwater. Place the stem in the glass part, and attach the hose. Make sure they are all attached firmly so that the hookah is airtight.
Then pack the ceramic bowl full of tobacco. Though it should be filled to the brim, the tobacco should be loose, so that air can get in. Cover it with tin foil and poke holes in it. Pens or forks make good-size holes.
As for lighting coals, put them in the fire on a gas stove for 5 to 10 minutes, until they begin to glow red. Then place them around the edges of the tin foil. Though many ahwas won’t do this, you should leave the middle clear of coals because hookahs work best when air can get through.
A few pulls, and your hookah should be smoking nicely.
After reading some of The Daily Star Egypt’s articles about how unhealthy shisha is, you may be wondering what the possible virtues of shisha at home are. Perhaps having at-home shisha will not prevent smoke and nicotine damage, but at least you know that your hookah is clean.
The US military warns not to smoke shisha in ahwas because the shopkeepers often don’t wash hookahs, and diseases such as tuberculosis can be a risk.
At-home shisha is probably the healthiest way to be unhealthy, if you’ve decided to ignore doctor’s warnings in favor of the hubbly-bubbly. So enjoy one of these cool, winter evenings with a shisha on your own balcony.
Shop recommendations for buying hookahs:
Saad and Mohamed’s shop, 24 Khan Azzam, Khan al Khalili, 0124199515A decent hookah should be about LE 60 here, depending on how good your Arabic and bargaining skills are.
This one has no name, but its address is 70 Gawhar El Kaid Street, El Moski, Cairo, 02 592 2061. The proprietor speaks flawless English.