Do you mean the hubble-bubble?
Yes, in Egypt its correct name is the sheesha, elsewhere the water pipe is known as the arghilah, narghile, hookah, or kalian.
And it looks like a bagpipe with a specimen jar attached?
Please, show a little respect. The sheesha is a sophisticated smoking device evolved to perfection in Istanbul and taken up throughout the Ottoman Empire.
Is it popular today?
Less so in Turkey but very much so in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, where it continues to provide the smoothest smoke known to man.
So are you a big fan?
Well, if you are going to smoke, this is the most social way to do it. The large pipe is practically a piece of furniture so you have to sit still and relax with it. This leads to a more meditative approach and gives you the chance to appreciate the conversation and company of your fellow smokers.
Better than a quick drag on a fag?
The traditions of the sheesha makes it the cordon bleu of smoking compared with the fast food of the new-fangled cigarette.
Where is the best place to enjoy this sublime smoke?
Cairo, which is full of small cafés, called ahwas, where you can enjoy the twin evils of tobacco and caffeine to your heart's content. One of the oldest and most famous is el-Fishawi in the Khan el-Khalili market. The cafe is open 24 hours and is an atmospheric den of dalliance, catering for regular idlers from Cairo and bemused tourists taking a break from the rigours of Egyptian shopping.
So how should one proceed?
Simply take a seat and when the waiter comes round add the magic word "sheesha" to your order of tea or coffee. If given the choice, the best tobacco to start with is the mild fruit-flavoured tofah (apple being the most common). The pipe will arrive with a comforting pile of glowing charcoal on top. Make sure the waiter gives you a fresh plastic smoking tip, then sit back and enjoy a leisurely paced 20-minute puff that should set your toes tingling.
Any smoking tips?
1. Suck hard enough to create the satisfying bubbling in the water jar.
2. Occasionally check the top of the water jar for smoke. If it is cloudy, gently blow down the pipe and the stale fumes will escape through a special side valve.
3. As with any civilised pastime there is an etiquette to observe: it is greatly frowned upon to light a cigarette on the sheesha fire because the rhythm of the burning charcoal might be disturbed - and always keep the pipe on level ground, and never on the table.
Is there anything special about the water in a water pipe?
Any fresh water will do; just ask the waiter to change it if it is brown with nicotine. The Egyptians sometimes put a slice of lemon into the water to freshen it or add pomegranate juice or rose water to give it a sweet flavour. Expat Europeans have been known to use wine, beer or even whisky in the jar. Not to be recommended - not only does it ruin the purity of the smoke, but it might cause a serious fire.
Where can I buy one to bring home?
To find sheesha heaven, go north of the Khan el-Khalili market on the long old narrow road called Sharia el-Muizz. Stop when you get close to the Al Aqmar Mosque. This is the metal-working area of the market, full of stalls and small shops selling giant pots, pans, braziers and sheeshas of every shape and size. Dotted among the vendors are also makers and repairers; very useful if your old pipe needs a refit.
What should I look for when buying?
1. If you are after a working model, avoid the smaller ornamental pipes as they do not cool and filter the smoke as well as the 3ft-high classics.
2. Standard stainless-steel pipes are much better than faux-antique brass ones.
3. Feel free to choose your own combination of jar, body and pipe. The seller should be willing to put any arrangement together . . . the chap I bought mine from even made a telephone call to get the blue-ringed jar I wanted.
4. Once assembled, check the seals by blowing down the pipe. The only air escaping should be from the side valve.
5. Make sure you get all the kit, which should include tongs for charcoal, filters for communal use and, of course, the moist sheesha tobacco, which is hard to find in Europe. The clay pot, or hagar, is particularly important as a pipe with only a metal bowl will produce a bitter hot smoke.
And how much should I pay?
Anything between 25 and 100 Egyptian pounds (£5-£20). It depends on how much you value your pipe and how much you haggle.
"...in the Middle East, particularly in Egypt, where it continues to provide the smoothest smoke known to man."