From your local street corner to our very own Olympic delegation, it is obvious to most that Egyptians cannot live without shisha. It permeates our routines and extends tendrils into our lives so that a moment will come when everything we look at, be it the cup of tea on the table or the mosalsal on television, will remind us of shisha and how we could use a puff right now. Or maybe that’s just me.
Already a pervasive element of our lives, Ramadan kicks shisha smoking into overdrive. Due to the marked laziness and general lack of things to do during the holy month, coupled with the gargantuan meals one is subjected to, shisha presents itself as a laid-back, purportedly digestion-aiding alternative to the depths of the couch.
In an attempt to unravel the mystery of this phenomenon, we have decided to take a look not at the stereotypical places and flavours, but rather at the smokers themselves. This reviewer feels that, if you know the smoker, the culture of smoking will become more readily apparent.
The shisha fiend comes in many shapes and forms. Stay vigilant and see if you can classify your friends!
Your average garden-variety smoker will occasionally order a shisha himself but is also inclined to limit himself to puffs off a friend’s shisha. Should he be allowed free rein he will empty your shisha of any flavour, so beware. His diet includes such crowd-pleasing favourites as peach or watermelon. Known habitats include Coffeeshop Company, Pottery Cafe and other cafe chains.
The shisha-snob is an elusive specimen known for causing mischief and being the general bane of shisha waiters everywhere. If possible, avoid contact as – since the snobbishness sometimes results in a marginally better shisha – the behaviour might be contagious. Known dietary habits include a tendency to devour Blue Mist and other foreign flavours. Can be found only at places that charge at least an EGP 100 minimum charge. Sequoia’s often a good bet to catch the snob in action.
Next comes the ibn balad or true Egyptian genus of shisha fiend. The most noteworthy aspect of the ibn balad will be his staunch refusal to smoke any fruity or odd flavours, enjoying only the unflavoured me’asel that is the staple for any senior smokers. Unlike the others, this species enjoys camouflage and his identity will not be readily discerned until it is time to order a shisha. They could be dressed simply or be wearing the most ostentatious of clothing since the me’asel flavour is often adopted by those wishing to prove manhood. In that sense it is oddly like a Hummer. Expect to find the ibn balad in rank underground ahwas that you, as a reader of the Daily News Egypt, probably do not frequent. Alternatively, if you ever spot shishas and plastic chairs on the sidewalk, rest assured an ibn balad is not far off.
The final species to be examined in this (very scientific, we assure you) study is the mixologist. Applying only the finest principles of bartending to the art of shisha, this person will never make do with a flavour so simple it can be expressed in a word or two. They will have nothing against the peach flavour personally, but why have peach if you can have “white peach melba with a dash of salted caramel and a smattering of tropic fruit for depth”? Expect to find this specimen at any shisha spot where the waiters have a modicum of patience and a boundless memory. A famous mixologist hangout is Wel3a, in Zamalek.
Now, dear reader, armed with this handbook you may safely venture out into the smoke-ridden shisha hub that is Cairo. Live amongst the spectrum of species, record your observations in your own handbook and ingratiate yourself with the identity you feel most comfortable with, whether it is mixologists, snobs, laymen, or some as-of-yet undiscovered species. Happy smoking!