YANGON—Smoking shisha is a growing fashion among young people in Yangon in recent years, and a fun and sociable activity to do while with a group of friends
Shisha originally comes from the Middle East, though some say it has history in India and others say it comes from the ancient Persian empire. In Yangon, it started to become popular around 2014. More and more bars are offering shisha as a main menu option.
To smoke shisha, flavored tobacco is put at the top of a tall glass water pipe or hookah and covered with metal heat retainer, roasting atop hot charcoal. The body of the hookah contains water flavored with shavings of fruits such as melon, lime or apple, herbs like mint or simply ice, depending on what you choose from the menu.
When you inhale the smoke deeply and slowly, it passes through the water chamber, gathering a pleasingly smooth fruity flavor. The higher the quality of the hookah, the more it costs and the better it tastes.
In January 2017, a local young entrepreneur, Ko Chan Nyein Soe, opened a bar dedicated to high-quality shisha on the fourth floor of Myanmar Plaza, and called it Blow Rooftop Bar and Lounge. This open-air bar is where you can find the highest quality and most expensive “luxury shisha” in the city.
“Yangon doesn’t have shisha bars and my boss wanted to try opening something different so he brought this luxury shisha option to the city. This is the first ever bar in Yangon to specialize in shisha,” said Ko Zayar Aung, general manager of Blow.
The reason they call it “luxury shisha” is because of the bar’s efforts in ordering handmade, futuristic glass hookahs from the Czech Republic which costs over $4,000 each.
“The taste is obviously different when you change the hookah,” he said.
As well as high-quality hookahs, the tobacco is also a top brand ordered in from the UAE.
When you enter the bar, the air is filled with pleasant-smelling shisha smoke. The trendy space has two different seating options: premium shisha lounges decorated with colorful neon lights and designed as separate square boxes and regular seats in the main seating area. In the premium lounge, you can only order from the “luxury shisha” menu.
On our visit to Blow last week, we tried the “Meduse Beach” shisha which is a harmonious tobacco mix with melon, lime, coconut and pineapple flavors with an optional shot of Malibu on the side. Its costs 50,000 kyats with the shot and 45,000 kyats without.
One order of shisha in enough for a small group for around one and a half hours. The handmade glass hookahs at Blow are uniquely beautiful and have two mouthpieces. The smell is so refreshing and pleasing and the taste is smooth. It may feel like you’re floating in a cloud of relaxation.
The shisha takes about 20 minutes to prepare and the staff members at Blow are willing to explain the culture of shisha and how to smoke it properly.
One of the staff members told us, “If the tobacco is over burning, it is not good for the smokers. That’s why we frequently check and balance the charcoal heat.”
They also have small shisha and hookah options and they cost between 25,000 and 35,000 kyats. The bar offers a choice of beers and wine on the drinks menu priced from 2,000 to 8,000 kyats per glass.
From the food menu, what we enjoyed the most were the grilled king prawns with lemon butter sauce (11,000 kyats). The prawns were very fresh with a mouthwatering smell and went perfectly with the sauce. Another famous dish at Blow is the grilled pork chops (14,500 kyats). The pork is imported from Thailand and grilled to perfection. With this dish, the chef marinates the meat in a Japanese-style sauce and grilled until the taste is sweet. The meat was very soft and the whole dish was perfect.
A cold cut platter (12,000 kyats) is another offering which includes cuts of imported beef and pork with cheese, candied fruit and garlic bread. This is the perfect bite for wine lovers.
Another of our favorites was the Greek salad (6,000 kyats) which is not normally a top choice when eating at a bar-restaurant but Blow’s version has a great mayonnaise-based dressing and crispy fresh ingredients.
Despite being a dedicated shisha bar, the food served at Blow is also top quality, tasty and worth the price. All of these factors add up to a great experience which keeps the bar at the top of the list of favorite places for Yangonites to hang out and why it’s packed with customers every weekend.
An important fact to note here is that shisha contains nicotine and can be addictive. The World Health Organization has reported that one hour of smoking shisha could be the same as smoking one hundred cigarettes.