The heady smell of the nargile assaults the senses and soothes the mind. Although the Turkish water pipe (known outside Turkey by the Arabic word 'shisha') has been a symbol of the Ottoman Empire since the 17th century, the nargile originates from India. It was first made by simply emptying a coconut and using a straw to inhale the aromatic smoke.
Today, nargiles can be as complex or as simple as you like. Consisting of a cooling basin of water attached to a pipe, flavoured tobacco is heated by hot coals from above and then inhaled through the pipe. The tobacco used was once just plain old tobacco. Now, flavours range from the ever-popular apple to coffee, mint, chocolate and more. The exception to this is Izmir, where traditions have held strong and nargile is smoked using plain tobacco only.
In Turkey’s smaller centres it’s usually the men you’ll see smoking the nargile. But in Istanbul, everyone gets involved. Expect to pay around 7 to 15 lira for an Istanbul pipe. Nargile cafes abound in Istanbul, especially around the Tophane and Taskim areas. Here’s our pick of the best nargile cafes in Istanbul in which to enjoy this relaxing and social treat.
Head towards Tophane’s Nusretiye Mosque to find this tree-shaded cafe. Inside, the decorations are ornate – check out the engraved ceilings. You can smoke both plain and aromatic nargiles. There are also a number of teas to try, as well as strong Turkish coffee.
This nargile cafe is located in Cemberlitas, at the Corlulu Alipasa Medresesi. It's probably Istanbul's most famous nargile cafe. As well as serving up plain and aromatic nargile, there’s also an array of teas. It’s open until 2am – and it can get busy here; the cafe can hold up to 200 people.
This is one of Istanbul’s oldest nargile cafes, and was once found under the old Galata Bridge. When the bridge was renovated, Erzurum Nargile moved to Tophane, where it’s been for 15 years. It’s open 24 hours a day.
This Tophane cafe is a relatively new addition to Istanbul’s nargile cafe collection. Aromatic tobaccos and strong coffee are served, along with Turkish snacks. The cafe is open 24 hours a day.