The word "chicha" should never be confused with hashish...chicha is the Sudanese term for nargileh/hookah/hubble bubble pipe that is so popular all over the Middle East. On a chicha, only normal or fruit flavoured tobacco is used...if you are after hashish (and you shouldn't be), it goes under the name "bongo". Chicha smoking has taken off in Kassala, and quite a few places have pipes available...the most popular place to take chicha is at Totil, where a couple of the smaller cafes have pipes. Another chicha-drinking place is at the top end of the souq, near the Women's Market, where there are several outdoor cafes filling a square. Closer to the bus station is an upstairs cafe with chicha and satellite television...if you are desperate to watch European football or maybe an American film, this is where you'll find it.
Women who smoke chicha are frowned upon in Sudan, and very few will admit to even having tried it once. That said, at private picnics, you might find a liberal woman who enjoys a puff or two in secret, and chicha does have a reputation of making you fat, and as most men in Sudan prefer their women larger than life, chicha is often a technique used...something to do with chicha making you hungry, although I found the exact opposite!
Favorite Dish: Tufaah is the apple-flavoured chicha, which is fairly light and smells quite nice...often you can find a secret chicha den by the distinctive smell wafting out from a doorway! The other variety in Kassala, popular with people from Halfa al-Jadeeda, is called jaraak...this is plain tobacco, very strong and quite unpleasant if you are not accustomed to it.
Faham or nar are words for coals, while asking for another hajar will bring you a second helping of tobacco.
Kassala has been compared to Paris by a very optimistic traveller due to its cafe culture. Well, there are certainly many places to drink coffee, although not really many proper cafes. Most are men only, and a foreign woman is likely to cause quite a stir...that's not to say you shouldn't go, just don't go on your own, and be prepared to be stared at! A tea or a pot of coffee for one sells for just 300 pounds (30 dinar)...most of these places have little stools called bambars, and are run almost exclusively by men in the evening. One of my favourites is the cafe on a rooftop overlooking the bus station. Another place to watch life go by in Kassala is under the big tree opposite the rashaida market. Tea ladies do exist in Kassala, but you have to search for them, and they are usually only to be found during daylight hours. They also charge for the privilege of being served by a woman...500 pounds/50 dinars per drink. If you prefer a cafe where you can sit at a table, try the one next to the hospital, or even better, head across the Gash to Cafe Babaya, opposite the university gates, where there is a pleasant mosquito-free garden...the coffee here isn't great, but they have soft drinks as well. For the ultimate Kassala coffee experience, head to Totil mountain, where you pay S£2000 for a clay jebbana containing eight cups of the black stuff and a tray of popcorn and boiled sweets.
Favorite Dish: Tea is usually served black (shai ahmar) and sometimes you canask for mint (shai bi na'na'). Coffee is brewed with ginger (bi zinjibil or bi dawa) so if that isn't to your taste, ask for "jabbana saleega". Coffee is always served in a small metal coffee pot, which you pour into a finjaan or a small coffee cup, but if you prefer it in a tea glass, ask for "jebbana fi kobaya".
Sugar is considered the most important ingredient, and Sudanese tastes render tea and coffee quite syrupy-like...if you don't have a very sweet tooth, then ask for "sukkar khafeef" (little sugar), or even "bidoon sukkar" (without sugar...expect astonished gasps if you order this!!)
In the evening, coffee and tea can be served with milk...shai laban is milky tea, while coffee with milk is given the unusual name of shai faransawi, which literally means French tea. If you like the thick creamy bits on your milky tea, then you can ask for "fawqhu jummaada".
Tea and coffee are not for everyone, so luckily most vendors have other options...kerkedeh is bright red hibiscus tea and quite common all over town, while hilba or fenugreek tea is a bit rarer.
Freshly slaughtered goats for breakfast!
In one of Kassala's markets is a special section for buying sheep and goats. Immediately next door is a man with a rather sharp knife, and next door to him is a restaurant where the flesh is torn off the still warm carcass and fried in front of you. Not for vegetarians or the squeamish, and even meat eaters might have second thoughts, but this is about as local a breakfast as it is possible to have, and you can't complain the meat isn't fresh!
Ice cream Kassala style
You might spot women or children sitting in strategic places around Kassala next to what looks like a cool-box (usually bright orange with a white lid). They sell "ice cream", which is actually what we'd call ice-pops in Britain...frozen fruit juice in long thin plastic bags. S£100 (SD10) will buy you an ice, complete with a scrap of paper to catch the drips...you bite the end off, then start to enjoy!
Favorite Dish: Flavours I've come across are kerkedeh, aradeeb, guava, mango, kakao and just plain "juice", which is made from artificial fruit juice powder (not recommended....why go for artificial, when you can have real fruit?).
Overdose on sugar
A number of places serve baklava and other Syrian sweets...the best for my money are At-Tabag As-Souri (mentioned above) and Kassala Sweets, on the road to the bridges over the Gash. Half a kilo of these sickly sweet sticky pastries costs around S£2000, and you can choose to eat in at the At-Tabag As-Souri if you so wish. Buying halawiyaat, as they are called, always seems a good idea at the time, but by the third or fourth mouthful I've usually had enough and start wondering what to do with the gloopy mess lying in front of me!
Close to the Bashair and Toteel Hotels are two excellent fuul stalls. The owners vie with each other to make this unappetizing-looking dish more exciting by adding spices, garlic and other sauces on top of the standard cheese and oil. Eating a bowl of hot fuul with fresh bread at a roadside table can be a great experience...at other times, it can just get a bit much, "fuul again" sort of attitude, leaving you feeling bloated. For a bowl big enough for two hungry people, expect to pay under S£2000.
Telal ash-Sharq Restaurant: Give me a bowl this big!
Actually, I don't know the name of this restaurant, but it is under the Telal ash-Sharq Hotel. It is always busy, especially popular with students.
Favorite Dish: They serve many types of meat, but the cheapest option is a type of mush made from vegetables...it is tasty and filling, and you ask for it by the bowl size...when the waiter comes, you show him how big you want your bowl, and when he brings it, make sure you shout at him for not bringing enough...invariably he will add more to your bowl. It is quite a noisy place...the waiters shout orders out to the kitchen and also the bill to the cashier...haphazard, but everyone gets served quickly. It is not a place to linger...you eat, wash your hands, then go and fight over the bill.
At-Tabaq As-Souri: The best place for a guava smoothie
This place is one of the few places to actually sit and have a snack with friends while in the centre of town, a place where mixed groups can go...so it is usually very busy. They do excellent sandwiches (try the cheese and jam one!), halawiyat (sweets), but the best of all is the guava smoothie. But it gets incredibly hot and sweaty in here, so avoid it in the heat of the day...