10 Experiences of a North Indian In Chennai

A North Indian in Chennai feels both apprehension and excitement. I, too, went through the same process when my husband got posting orders for Chennai. Apprehensive because I have never been down South, not even as tourist and my mind was hazed by common stereotypes that a regular North Indian has for South India. Added to this were the horror stories about language issues. These are my,  a North Indian’s experiences in Chennai.

1.    Beach Prawn Shopping

Credit: http://squierj.freeyellow.com/

Those who know me will have no doubts that prawn shopping tops the list. Fresh catch of prawns is seductively displayed in heaps on the beaches of Chennai. Remember to negotiate hard. With time you learn the nuances of the game. They sell in heaps and not by weight. So you have to see that the heap is not misleading. The tactics is to place the big sized prawns on top while the smaller and sometimes the rotten ones are hidden underneath. Trust me it is an art and I am a pro at it now. The trick is to combine Tamil, English, Hindi and throw in a lot of body language to crack the best deal.

“Prawns romba costly solreenga …konjam less amma…”

Tip: Go late evening to get the best negotiated deal. I mean almost ½ kg of prawns in Rs. 40.

Chennaites have a good business sense. The moment you buy prawns, a lady sitting quietly till now will all of a sudden get hyper active – snatch your packet and start de-skinning and cleaning the prawns while shouting throughout… only 10 rupees, only 10 rupees. Well, not a bad bargain at all!

Ah! I so miss Chennai and prawns.

2.    Minimalist Fashion

Nighty seems to be the state dress for women in Chennai. Actually, nighty is the most practical dress in sweltering humidity of Chennai. People here generally follow simple dressing unlike some other states like Chandigarh that can actually give you a complex of being under-dressed. I love Chennai for I could be myself, unkept not that I will grow bushy eyebrows but yes comfy dressing.

3.    The Love for Gajra

Chennai, Flower, Gajra

Photo credit; Nita Jatar Kulkarni | http://www.stockpicturesforeveryone.com/

Every woman in Chennai gracefully wears a gajra be it young girls, married women, old ladies, corporate working or housewife. And, it is simply romantic! Very early in the morning you have ladies coming up with baskets of fresh gajra and selling from door to door. If you book them on monthly basis (which a lot of Chennaities do) then they will hang a packet of gajra on your door knob and it is the first thing you see when you wake up. Every street, every bus stop, and at every market you will find a lady with a small makeshift arrangement selling gajras. I so fell in love with gajra that I pestered Soumen to get one for me and put it in my hair in typical Bollywood fashion. He obliged reluctantly.

4.    The Footwear Rule

If you are in Chennai then book yourself for a good pedicure membership. Most of the shops have leave your footwear outside policy. They have taken the ‘work is worship’ a little too seriously. Not that I have problems with moving around barefoot but I surely won’t be comfortable in an unclean and unhygienic place but sadly that is the case with most of the shops. Eventually, I ended up with limited shopping outlets.

5.    Wholesome Food

Chennai, the land of idli, dosa and aapams actually offers yummy, healthy and filling food within Rs 100.

At Murugan Idli restaurant a banyan leaf is laid  as soon as you sit (not even a minute is wasted) and an army of people with traditional pots and ladles will come in such speed that you are left startled. Varieties of chutneys, sambhar, vada, idli, dosa, rasam is served within matter of minutes. For the first timers this can be a little intimidating but soon you enjoy all this quick service.

murugan-idli-shop-idli-chennai-south india food

Each time at Murugan Idli we hogged like anything and even when we had stuffed ourselves with every possible variety of South Indian food and double servings of chutney and sambhar the bill would hardly cross Rs 500 for a group of four people.

The best thing about food in Chennai is that you can eat with hands. Fork and spoon is not even served. My father-in-law, a true Bengali at heart, once said, “Ah such is the irony that I am served with palatable food but because eaiting with knife and fork is considered courteous (stupid British systems) I am deprived of savouring the real flavours which emanates only when eaten by hands.”  Isn’t that true for most of us?

When in Chennai I realized that the South Indian food served in most of the restaurants in North India actually have a Punjabi tadka. The authentic South Indian dosa and sambhar is much different.

6.    Beach Romance


Photo Credit: Basumitra

No matter how much a couple fights through the day if they go for a beach walk romantic feeling is imminent – the beach breeze, playful ambiance, moon light and beach food (vendors selling all sorts of snacks) makes you feel light and refreshing.

7.    Spencer Mall

I have a crush on Spencer mall. It is so huge with so many shops that you do fall in love with it and keep coming back frequently. The mall has 3 phases, 8 storeys and approximately 1.068 million sq ft, consisting of nearly 600,000 sq ft of air-conditioned shopping units. You can practically spend 24 hours there. My personal record is straight 12 hours of marathon shopping inside Spencer mall. I got lost in there so many times but that was fun too!

Spencer mall has an historical angle worth mentioning. “Spencer Plaza was built in 1863–1864, established by Charles Durant and J. W. Spencer in Anna Salai, then known as Mount Road, in the Madras Presidency”, quoting Wikipedia. So, it is just not another mall. It is part of history.

8.    Blind Love for Politicians

When it comes to show love for politicians Chennaities are quite expressive. I have come across men wearing huge gold rings, lockets and bracelets with Amma or Karunanidhi’s pictures. And pure gold jewellery! That is the level of reverence. Often on roadside you can see larger than life cut outs of politicians so designed to resemble a sun with flames fluttering from all sides. It is truly a piece of art.

9.    High on Culture

In the evening giggling girls dressed in Bharatanatyam dress are seen almost in every colony. There is atleast one dance and music academy in each lane. Such is the love for music and dance in Chennai. We also have the master himself taking classes in Chennai, the A. R Rehman Music Academy.


Photo Credit: Kavita Rao

Sensible audience with understanding and appreciation for literature is key to a commendable theatre culture of Chennai. I watched a play written by Girish Kannad and performed by Shabana Aazmi, Broken Images, that still remains very close to my heart. Unlike Delhi or Chandigarh you will not find a single mobile ringing or disturbance inside theatre and that speaks volumes about audience maturity.

10. Lots of Money

From where do they get so much money? Huge saree shops and so systematic that it is unbelievable. Every variety has a different counter. Also no window shopping allowed for the first thing they ask is what’s your budget? Kanjevaram sarees can be as expensive as 50K . The designs are traditional and you feel feminine wearing them. When it comes to saree shopping, Kumarans in T. Nagar is my absolute favourite.

Who wouldn’t know about gold shopping in Chennai? Gold is quite cheaper in Chennai than any other state and that cajoles you to buy some more. Also the designs are inspired by Dubai and you get some beautiful designs.

Wandering in T.Nagar amidst all these flashy shops I missed having a hubby with a fat wallet.

Update: This post is adjudged the Top Post on Indiblogger 




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31 Responses to 10 Experiences of a North Indian In Chennai

  1. […] Language is an issue which is better to not even to start talking about. It takes time for the culture to sink it. Till then you keep looking at the faces and try to decipher what people are saying using their body language as cues. […]

  2. […] was brought up in a typical middle-class North Indian family where kids are kids and should remain so – obedient and under the tutelage of the […]

  3. Statues, rajini, degree coffe, sambar vada, CSK, Masala dosa, were missing but it was still great. Next time visit Marina and its promenade and its countless statues,the colonial buildings, temples at mylapore and triplicane, egmore museum, kalakshethra, mahabalipuram rock cut architecture et al. Good post. Great observation.

  4. Yea people dig these top 10 stuffs now a days… no wonder it earned you a badge 😛
    Seriousness apart, photos kahan hai bhai?

  5. velmurugan says:

    Nice presentation and love to hear about south indian city that too chennai

  6. Anonymous says:

    well written…it took me back a decade when i reached Chennai and since then the city charmed me quite a lot …Btw it seems like nighty is becoming a national morning costume 🙂

  7. loved your post…the idli had my mouth watering all along….honest from the heart one of the best travelogues I have come across

    • gitanjali says:

      Idli and dosa with variety of chutneys is actually tempting…thanks. Your words, best travelogue will ring in my ears for quite some time 🙂 Patting my back now…hehe

  8. ashwinicn says:

    Oh, nice to hear a third-person’s view of the city I grew in 🙂

  9. indrani says:

    That is straight from heart 🙂
    I like the prawn experience… so much in Rs.50!!!
    mukhe jol ashe gelo 😀
    I too like Chennai for its simplicity.

    • gitanjali says:

      The amount of prawns I have eaten in Chennai, Indrani it was like daal bhaat. Right from prawn chochuri to pakoda to jhol…prawn in everything. Easy access to prawns is what I miss most about Chennai.

  10. […] My mind was hazed by common stereotypes that a regular North Indian has for South India plus language issues. Experiences of a North Indian in Chennai.  […]

  11. priya says:

    Enjoyed reading this….being a vegetarian I cannot identify with the prawn business part….but the rest sums up some very good observation…being a south Indian as well as having lived in other cities in south India, I would like to add that the best part of Chennai is its perfect mix of culture…you have the ultra modern with the conservative going hand in hand, guiding the youth to build a society which is rich in terms of values…

    • gitanjali says:

      Totally agree with you, Priya. On one hand IT companies and on the other hand women in simple, traditional dressing and gajra.

  12. Alok Vats says:

    Oops never faced this issue, while I was reading your blog, and typed a long comment over here, and the blog gave me that your request has times out, please do it again and my long comment vanished away 🙂

    By the way you analyzed these things so closely. I guess I missed the Spencer Mall, I was not aware about that. And I also missed the music, theater and culture part, as I was mostly residing there in hotels only.

    Though I must say one thing which we North Indian face there badly is the food issue. Language obviously is a major hurdle though if you know English, and you can break English language quite easily then you can manage there, but managing with foods is a bit difficult. I use to enjoy the foods over there, but whenever I visited Chennai with my mom, I use to carry so many food items from Delhi only 🙂

    • gitanjali says:

      So sweet of you to leave a meaningful comment 🙂 Yes, I agree food is a problem but we managed as we are fish and rice eaters and this is staple food of Chennai. Food is quite spicy and tangy there. However, Dosa was my all time favourite there, so crispy and with varieties of coconut chutney, heavenly!

  13. bhavani says:

    Love your post!!!! Very well written!!

  14. been in chennai for 4 years…can relate to most of these..i had become an expert in negotiating fish prices by the end of my stay 🙂

  15. Loved this post and as I say, South India is the best – people, culture, food and almost everything 🙂
    Thanks for sharing your experiences.

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