As a fairly regular smoker of good tobacco there are lots of opportunities for me to enjoy a bowl of hookah with food and drink. When it comes to intentionally pairing tobacco with food and drink there are a couple basic ground rules that will help you enjoy your session and enjoy both indulgences.
1. Pick complimentary flavors. I know this sound silly but you won’t believe how bad things can get with mixed flavors until you experience it yourself. Have you ever eaten soon after brushing your teeth? Pretty terrible right? Well that’s the same idea. If you are mixing flavors from hookah and food together that you would never mix in a glass and drink then it is probably a bad idea.
2. Spicy foods dull your sense of taste and smell. It’s a simple idea. If you dull your sense of taste and smell then the hookah’s often subtle flavors will be lost to you. This is the same thing with all tobacco but that is an entirely different subject.
3. If you are drinking alcohol then match the alcohol style to the tobacco. A cask aged scotch might not pair well with a margarita flavored tobacco. Save the Clontarf for when you are smoking something classic in which you can taste and feel the tobacco leaf. If you want something to compliment the candy flavors stick to something light. Lighter beers can cleanse the taste buds and help your sense to not become used to the flavors of the hookah smoke and thus dulled.
4. A good vanilla compliments just about everything. Seriously. A good vanilla is really the universal mixer. Most things you can eat or drink will go well with a nice vanilla hookah tobacco.
An important point to make before moving on. Don’t get drunk while tending a hookah. Most of the horror stories I hear about dropped coals, tipped rigs and smashed vases come from parties and inebriation. It’s fine to get drunk (if you are of legal age) once in a while but it’s not a good idea to get shlitzed and play with fire and expensive glass.
Now we are going to get a bit more detailed and give you some pairing that make for a relaxed and flavorful night.
Coffee & Hookah
A classic drink for the tobacco smoker. A great pairing with traditional black tobaccos like Nakhla Zaghloul as well as many more modern flavors. I would stay away from strong and overly sweet citrus flavors while drinking coffee. That is except for things like Nakhla orange or mandarin that have a heavy flavor more like the peel of the fruit. Those more rind like flavors pair nicely. I have used candied citrus peel in my coffee to great success before. Go for spice and floral flavors.
Coffee is a flavor that is warm and enveloping. pick something that makes you feel the same way. Pumpkin pie, cinnamon, 7 spice… coffee. One of the most classic flavors used to compliment coffee in The Middle East is cardamom. These strongly flavored and unique seed pods are used in the preparation of Turkish style coffee (try it with Othmani Turkish Coffee) and if you smoke a bowl of Al Fakher or Nakhla cardamom while sipping on a nice espresso or coffee you’ll realize why that practice has been around for so long.
Milk & Hookah
Drinking milk while smoking tobacco is something that many might shy away from. I suggest it so long as you don’t have any intolerance to dairy. Smoking can make you a little more prone to an upset stomach so if the idea makes your inside gurgle just thinking about it then move on to the next tip. If milk does sound good to you then there are lots of options.
Sweet fruit flavors, some spice flavors and mints will give you a pretty astounding experience when sipping on milk. The creaminess of the milk makes it taste somewhat like you are drinking a milk shake that is flavored like the hookah tobacco. The day I discovered this my friends and I sat around drinking milk and smoking peach tobacco (one more peach flavor). It was like a peaches and cream milk shake. Awesome. Stick to 2% milk I say. While milk is good for you there is a lot of fat in it and if you get into the habit of drinking lots of it while relaxing with a hookah for most of the day it could have some noticeable effects 😛
Beer & Hookah
As mentioned earlier I suggest sticking to lighter beers if you are smoking lighter tobacco. The stronger the tobacco the darker and stronger you can get with the beer. I have had some great sessions smoking Tangiers Horchata and sipping on a dark Oatmeal Stout. But as with all pairings it is about balance. If one dominates the other then it’s better to just keep them separate and prolong the enjoyment of both.
The cleansing properties that beers can have on the tongue can help you really enjoy a hookah. We have all had that session where you have been smoking for a long time and the flavor just seems dull. Well a sip of something refreshing can reinvigorate the senses that have become used to one flavor for such a long time. Bear in mind, when I say light or lighter I am not talking about light beer. I personally hate light beer. Stick to wheat beers and IPAs for something refreshing.
I mentioned margaritas in passing. Mixed drink are great so long as they are not too syrupy. It’s the same with everything else. Keep it light and try to compliment the flavors. It might not be best to match the flavors as I could see it getting to a bit of a strawberry overload if you are drinking a pina colada and smoking Social Smoke Pina Colada it could be a bit much. If it’s a fruity drink then Nakhla Mint is a great choice. If the fruit in the drink is often mixed together with the fruit flavor you are smoking at a smoothy bar then it’s probably a good idea. Special thanks to to ThoughtoGraphic for allowing us to use the Hookah and Demon picture.
Unless you have an adventurous pallet then avoid spice tobaccos with fruity drinks. And I really would avoid classic black style molasses while sipping on drinks that taste like candy. It’s just a bit… wrong. Probably doesn’t taste all that great either. Ever been at a bar that allows smoking and had the flavor of your drink ruined by a stray whisp of cigarette smoke? No? Well avoid it at all costs. It’s not so great.
The classic. It’s simple, good for you, prevents nicotine sickness and can cleanse the senses as well. I know lots of cigar smokers that won’t take anything with their smokes but a nice glass of room temperature or warm water (by the way do yourself a favor and don’t smoke a cigar with your hookah). Cold can dull your sense of taste but many times it’s the best in the summer. It’s a little game of give and take and it can take some time to figure out what balance is best for you. Water goes with everything and I suggest always having some water handy while smoking. It’s easy to not notice how dehydrated you are until you have a splitting head ache from the three bowls you just smoked… I know this all too well.
Food & Hookah
Like I said, avoid really hot and spicy foods. It will take away from what you are smoking and could completely mask weaker flavors. Stick to breads and lighter spreads. I suggest not having hookah during a big meal because to keep a hookah smoking well you should be drawing on a fairly regular basis. Eating and drinking will take a lot of time away from this. It’s also kind of gross to think of how much food matter is sticking to the mouth piece of the hose. If it’s just you then it’s not so much of an issue but if you are sharing with friends then it’s a little worse.
If you must eat during hookah sessions stick to foods that are not very greasy. Eat foods that leave your mouth feeling clean and always rinse the mouth with water and wipe your lips on a napkin before drawing from the hose. There is something nice about eating food from the Middle East or from India while enjoy shisha tobacco (here is a quick hookah history lesson). I would say stick to food that is relatively dry and can be easily eaten with one hand. Naan and other traditional breads along with the sauces associated with them and some fruit is just about perfect for me.
There is one more consideration to keep in mind. These are just my suggestions. These are not traditional rules or anything like that and should not be treated as such. Go to a traditional hookah lounge (picture courtesy of Paymon’s Lounge in Las Vegas) and enjoy your hookah with some drinks and a light Middle Eastern food.
Happy smoking and I hope this helps some people out.