Fumbling with Shisha in Amman Jordan

I lumbered off the plane after twelve-not-so-short hours in the air into the bustling city of Amman, Jordan jet lagged, but hungry. I knew that it was one of the few evenings I had completely to myself before starting my Jordan experience hosted by the Jordan Tourism Board, and I wanted to make the most of it. So, naturally, I lost no time finding the nearest shisha cafe.

Shisha is a flavored tobacco smoked through a large hookah, otherwise known as a water pipe. While it’s origins are decidedly Eastern, this relaxing activity has spread and you can find shisha cafes around the world.

It wasn’t my first time with the shisha, we have some themed cafes here in D.C., but it had been a long time and it was my first time enjoying it outside of the U.S. Shisha is extremely popular not just in Jordan, but throughout the Middle East and is usually joined by animated discussions and never-ending games of backgammon.

Even though I knew what it was and how to smoke it, I was a little nervous. I was traveling solo and about to enter into a common Jordanian pastime not with other tourists, but other Jordanians. I wasn’t sure I knew all of the social etiquette involved and was worried about committing some unintentional offense.

After checking into the Amman Marriott, I walked a few blocks to an area packed with shisha restaurants. They were separate establishments, but all were set up in the same way. There was outdoor seating filled with dozens of tables and hoards of servers, each waiting for the evening rush. I approached the closest cafe and sat at a table, waiting to be offered a menu or shisha selection or something. The waiter approached, dropped a juice box of water on my table and left. And that was that. All of the waiters stared at me and I stared back. I tried asking them how to order, but was met with a few shrugs.

Thoroughly confused and a bit embarrassed, I left but wasn’t deterred from enjoying some shisha that evening. I decided the mega-cafes weren’t going to work out, so I rounded the corner and instead found a little neighborhood restaurant, already filling up with tobacco swirling backgammon enthusiasts.

After a few minutes I knew I was in the right place, and before I knew it I had a hookah with apple flavored shisha next to me.

Smoking a shisha is not a difficult experience, especially if you have any experience smoking anything. The mouthpiece is disposable and a new one is opened for guests, so no worries about hygiene issues. The attendant places a couple of blocks of the tobacco over the coals and that’s it – it’s then up to the smoker to do the rest.

It’s easy to feel relaxed just from the simple act of smoking one of these ornate devices. I always feel like the Caterpillar in Alice of Wonderland, sitting back looking casual but with a certain air of authority.

At first a few patrons gave me quizzical glances, but seemed to lose interest once I showed I knew my way around the water pipe. I had some juice, ordered a meal and did what everyone else was doing – not much at all.

After a while, and some snacks, it was late and I called it a night. That evening though is one I remember most clearly, not for any panoramic views or special menus, but for the purely real experience of finding out what it’s like to live in the great city of Amman, Jordan.

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By: Matt Long

Matt has a true passion for travel. As someone who has a bad case of the travel bug, Matt travels the world in order to share tips on where to go, what to see and how to experience the best the world has to offer. Also follow Matt on Twitter, Facebook and

10 Responses

  1. The Travel Chica

    I think I could just eat that whole bowl of hummus with a spoon!

    I remember my first time using a hookah in Istanbul. Such a bazaar experience, and I was very self-conscious about how to order, etiquette, etc. just like you. Luckily, the people were very friendly and made our group feel comfortable.

  2. L.A.

    It never seizes to anger me when I read an article associating Hookah smoking with something positive, like getting the feel of Amman here! As a Jordanian, I would’ve recommended taking a stroll downtown and trying some Hummus and Falafel at Hashem’s and then just a few meters away some amazing Kunafah at Habiba’s, whilst mingling with the blend of locals and tourists usually found there, instead of engaging in “an emerging deadly habit” as the American lung association describes Hooka! And as for the hygiene thing, ther disposable mouthpiece is placed over the existing one, and with the huge hole in it, bacteria and viruses can easily pass, hooka smoking has been associated with tuberculosis(TB), herpes, hepatitis and infectious mononucleosis! As well as with increased risk of lung cancer COPD, infertiliy,… .Not forgetting that the amount of CO and Tar is significantly higher in Hooka than cigarettes as well as the additional carcinogens on gets from the charcoal! One single session of 45 min Hookah smoking is enough to cause significant lung damage and reduced cardiac output! So, NO, smoking Hookah is NOT a harmless way to pass an evening, it comes at a very high price YOUR HEALTH!!!!

    • Matt Long

      I think you should mention that you work for an anti-smoking group.

      • LA

        Actually, I don’t work for an antismoking group, but I am a mother who with other moms formed a group to protect our children from the hazards of smoking and passive smoking. Having a teenage daughter(13y), whose friends already smoke the hooka, I know how luring it can be! The misconception that hooka is harmless has to be corrected,else we are going to pay a very dear price!

        I could’ve put my private e mail adress, but chose to put the group’s!

      • Matt Long

        It seems to me that it’s a matter of personal choice. It’s the parent’s responsibility to raise their children. Removing hooka won’t stop their kid’s bad behavior, better parenting will. But thank you for offering your point of view, I think it’s an important one, although I may not personally agree with it.

      • Tala

        It is also very important that our tourists are aware of law #47 that bans indoor smoking in public places. The hooka cafes and the restaurants that offer hooka are all breaking the law. Also the smoker who is smoking hooka in these places are also breaking the law. If one of our health inspectors walks into that cafe or restaurant you and the cafe/restaurant can be legally persecuted. So it is not a matter of personal choice. It an illegal act.

      • Matt Long

        LOL, then so is every restaurant in Jordan. I don’t think I visited a single one that didn’t have a smoking section.

  3. faten

    I totally agree with L.A. comments. I am also an activist against INDOOR SMOKING. You make shisha sound as if it is what Jordan is all about! Is this what you “want to teach others how to see the world more efficiently and without spending a fortune”? I thought part of traveling is learning and teaching others about the cutlure and heritage of each country that you visit. Under which category do you classify shisha? It is definitely neither our culture nor our heritage. How would you feel if a traveller to the U.S. boasts about having drugs there? Is this what the U.S. is all about? Of course not.
    In any case, as a Jordanian, I welcome you to our country with an open heart and I wish you a pleasant stay in my beautiful Jordan where you will discover our rich history and culture.

  4. Kelsey

    Wow. The fanatics really came out in the comments on this one!

  5. Tala

    The shisha Addiction is not something we are proud of here in Jordan on the contrary it is illegal to serve shisha in restaurants and cafes that serve food according to our health law #47. We are fighting this criminal act and calling upon our ministry of health to strictly implement the law. We ask our dear tourists to help us clean our public air by refusing to go to any restaurant or cafe that serves shisha with food. I hope that next time you come to Jordan you will find it totally free from indoor smoking and you would enjoy Jordan for what it truly is.

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