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In Turkey a water pipe is known as a ‘nargile’. In the past, smoking a water pipe was something only done by the older generations, but about 10 years ago this centuries-old custom has been revived. A visit to Istanbul is not complete without an evening in a water pipe café, where you may choose from all kinds of pipes and flavours to smoke.
The verb ‘içmek’ in Turkish means both smoking and drinking. And that is literally what the water pipe tradition entails: drinking tea and smoking. It has nothing to do with drugs; the pipe contains only tobacco, often with a sweet flavour, such as apple, melon or strawberry. The purpose is not to get high –– smoking a water pipe is mostly a social activity where you spend a relaxing evening talking with friends and sharing a nargile.
In the heyday of the Ottoman Empire, water pipe smoking was very popular. Smoking a nargile with the sultan was regarded as the highest honour. With the rise of cigarette smoking in World War II, the nargile gradually disappeared but made a strong come-back in the late 1990s.
In Tophane, a neighbourhood in the Beyoğlu district, numerous nargile cafes popped up in response to the new trend. Today the neighbourhood has earned the nickname ‘Nargile Central’. Most cafés are open 24 hours a day and have large gardens where guests can recline on comfortable lounge cushions under the shady trees. Take your time and try all the different flavours, from cappuccino and banana to mint or peach. For a liquid refreshment, order a cup of tea, Turkish coffee or a fresh fruit juice. Nargilem Kafe boasts a beautiful garden, and Erzurum Nargile is one of the oldest nargiles in Istanbul and certainly worth a visit.
On practically every corner in Istanbul you can find a nargile café where you can sit back and smoke a water pipe. One of the most famous cafés in town is Erenler Nargile, housed in a courtyard of a former theology school. The café lies on the edge of the Grand Bazaar, but its entrance is tucked away on Çorlulu Alipaşa Medresesi in Çemberlitaş. To find it, follow the local students and men and women who head here straight after work. Inside, regular customers play a game of backgammon. The lovely garden seems straight out of an Arabian Nights fairytale.