Saudi Arabia and the Hookah Culture


When coming to the Kingdom (as well as most places in the Middle East/Arab world) you will hear and see references to the hookah or hubbly-bubbly or sheesha. It is not unusual to come to a home or to an estraha (small farm) and be offered to smoke the hookah. It is generally accepted for both men and women to smoke the hookah and does not have the same negative stigma such as perhaps smoking cigarettes or cigars.


In Jeddah there are now many coffee shops or “hookah bars” when men and women can sit together. They can not only order their non-alcoholic beverages but have a hookah brought to their table as well. In addition to being offered the wide variety of coffees, teas and juices they will find an assortment of hookah tobaccos to choose from as well.


So what exactly is the origin of the hookah and how did it all get started?


According to

Hookah History


The origins of the hookah come from the north western provinces of India along the border of Pakistan in Rajasthan and Gujarat nearly a millennia back [map]. These hookahs were simple, primitive, and rugged in design, usually made from a coconut shell base and tube with a head attached. They were designed to smoke opium [more], and hashish [more]. The hookah made its way through the Persian Kingdom [map], which also included Pakistan, Afghanistan, much of Middle Asia and Arab parts of Northern Africa. The hookah acquired tombeik on its way through Persia. Tombeik is a dark tobacco grown in modern day Iran. Tombeik is rinsed and packed in the large older style heads where hot coal is applied directly to the wet tombeik, which gives it a strong flavor. These heads and style of hookah, referred to as “ghelune” in Persian [more], are available on our web site. The hookahs designed in the Persian Empire are still hand crafted with each one being cut from a piece of wood. In the 19th century, cigarettes were made easily available and mostly women smoked the ghelune because they were not on the go. Women used the ghelune in the home for entertaining and as a past time.



Whereas states: Hookah History

Hookah was originated in India and was called Nargile. If translated to English, Nargile means coconut. That is exactly what hookah was made from – coconut shells. The Nargiles were simple, primitive, and rugged in design.

Nargiles popularity spread to Iran and then the Arab world and Turkey. However, it was in Turkey – in around 16th century – that hookah was developed and advanced close to what it looks like today. This was mainly for the fact that the Hookah was more popular among the upper class and the rugged design had to change.

Hookah started its main popularity in Turkey coffee shops. A hookah bar waiter was treated as a chef as its preparation was complex and had to be done carefully.

Hookah culture then migrated to other Middle Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirate, Morocco, and others. It was know as different names in different countries:

  • Saudi Arabia – Hubble Bubble
  • Egypt & Morocco – Shisha
  • Lebanon & Syria – Argile
  • Iran – Ghelyoon

Hookah is now a very popular smoking device used all around the world.


Now in order to smoke the hookah there are some steps that must be taken in preparation (the hookah lounge website accompanies these instructions with graphics):

Following is the instruction on how to prepare a hookah along with tips on how to get the best out of your hookah.

Before you start the following steps, wash your hookah thoroughly. This gets the old tobacco smell and dirt (and coal ashes) out. Don’t ever use the old water in the vase.

<!-[if !supportLists]->1. <!-[endif]->Fill the vase with water

<!-[if !supportLists]->2. <!-[endif]->Place the middle section in place

<!-[if !supportLists]->3. <!-[endif]->Place the tray on the argile.

<!-[if !supportLists]->4. <!-[endif]->Put the hose on the hookah

<!-[if !supportLists]->5. <!-[endif]->Pack the bowl with tobacco

<!-[if !supportLists]->6. <!-[endif]->Place the aluminum foil on top of the bowl

<!-[if !supportLists]->7. <!-[endif]->Put holes in the aluminum foil

<!-[if !supportLists]->8. <!-[endif]->Light coals and put them on the hookah head

<!-[if !supportLists]->9. <!-[endif]->Smoke the hookah

The tobacco which one smokes with the hookah comes in many flavors. When buying the tobacco it is usually in a clear plastic pouch or bag and moist to the touch. Most hookah tobaccos are based on fruit flavors and extracts.


Now I cannot comment personally on smoking the hookah but I do enjoy being where the hookah is smoked. I find the aroma of the tobacco to be very pleasant and the sound of the bubbling water as one draws upon the hookah to smoke to be a relaxing and soothing sound.



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