Welcome to Chennai, where the talk of hot weather, steep alcohol prices, and Bollywood movies is sign language for “Help I’m new here, and I’m clueless”. So the best thing to do if you are new is to ask a local for help, and trust me when I say you’ll be surprised at how genuinely helpful Chennaiites are, you really will be. Even our notorious auto drivers turn into superheroes during medical emergencies. But since you’re reading this article, let me be the local to show you the ropes, with 10 things you should know before you move to Chennai.
10 Things You Should Know Before You Move To Chennai
Mornings Begin With Coffee And A Fresh Copy Of The Hindu
We want to make it clear that when we say coffee, we don’t mean just any coffee, we mean filter coffee. What’s the difference? Everything. It’s straight up better than instant coffee powder. Coffee in hand, you’re now set to read the goings on in our city, from India’s most iconic newspaper, The Hindu. Started more than a 100 years ago, this day is about as much a part of our tradition as every Chennaiite’s mom playing M S Subbulakshmi’s rendition of the Suprabhatam every morning (Google the reference if you don’t get it). The day’s newspaper and filter coffee combination are available at most places across the city, though the best place to try filter coffee for the first time is at Saravana Bhavan, Ratna Café and any eatery in Mylapore. For more awesome filter coffee recommendations, check our story here.
The Beach Is A Way Of Life
You’ve probably heard of Marina beach and you’ll have probably heard of Besant Nagar’s Elliot’s beach. Our beaches are a big deal, just sitting on the shore and watching the waves go by has a way of soothing the soul. Just broke up? Sit at the beach. Got bad marks in an exam and had your folks yell at you? Let the waves wash those tears away. Take the first auto you see to the beach. Moving past those awkward, cringe-worthy depressing moments, there’s a lot of things to do and see at the beach. From sports to street food, there’s always something going on at both beaches in the mornings and evenings. Marina beach has a lighthouse that you should check out for a beautiful view of the city too.
The East Coast Road Is Where We Go Roadtripping
The East Coast Road is our version of Marine Drive, albeit a lot less crowded, except on Friday and Sunday evenings when everyone’s rushing back and forth from the standing booze cruise we call Pondicherry. If you’re new to the city, there’s a bunch of things for you to check out on ECR. For starters you have the Covelong surfing scene, where a number of surf schools have taken shelter and offer their services to us landlubbers. There’s a bunch of Go Karting places like Kart Attack. There’s a drive-in theatre called Prarthana that mainly screens Tamil Movies. There’s amazing seafood to be had at a restaurant called Moonrakers in Mahabalipuram (30-minute drive from Thiruvanmaiyur). There’s a one of a kind reptile zoo, called the Madras Crocodile Bank, that’s world famous and much much more. All you need to do is get in a car and drive, or if you want to enjoy the local experience, board any bus going down ECR from the Thiruvanmaiyur Bus Depot (it’s a good way to see what’s around).
Thayir Sadam (Aka Curd Rice) Is Soul Food
Who knew that two plain Jane ingredients could come together to form the most iconic food item in the history of the world. Don’t believe me? There’s an entire sect of people called Brahmins who have a heart attack if you tell them there’s no Thayir Sadam at the end of their meal. We love our Thayir Sadam plain and with a side of mango pickle. But there’s loads of ways to add variety to it, there’s often fruits and nuts put in to make it a little more interesting. Good places to try out curd rice are at the Mami Tiffen Stall, Sangeetha and at Hot Chips, or better still just get some curd, make some rice and try it at home.
We Love Our Cinema Theaters
Not only is it cheap to watch movies, but we've got some of the most amazing theatres here. Sathyam (now called SPI) and PVR offer not only quality services but also the yummiest cheese popcorn and cold coffee. A note on our cinemas wouldn’t be complete without a plug of our Superstar Thalaivar Rajnikanth. The movies he makes are a community experience, with the cheering and hooting from the audience sometimes being louder than the movie.
You’re Not Really A Chennaiite If You Haven’t Shopped In T Nagar
From sarees to kitchen utensils to hair clips to diamond earrings, there’s very little you can’t buy in the central hub of Chennai. Big shops in T Nagar, like Pothys and Nalli have been around for generations and offer sarees and other women’s garments across budgets and for different occasions. You need to see how big their stores are to believe how big a deal they are. For your jewellery needs, you have VBJ, OKJ, and NAC Jewellers; names sound confusing? Don’t worry, after the 15-minute interval in any movie theatre, the countless jewellery ads you will have seen will ensure that you’re well versed in every jewellery store’s USP and gold wastage percentages. For your other knick-knacks, there’s Pondy Bazaar, which is a collection of local smaller shops that sell pretty much everything else. There’s also the ridiculously massive Saravana Stores that is essentially the Walmart of our city.
Margazhi Season Is Our Yearly Celebration Of All Things Carnatic
Being the seat of Carnatic music in the south, Carnatic musicians from all over come to Chennai to perform music and sing. To give you a sense of how big this is, it is the largest musical event in the world with over 1500 individual performances over the course of the festival. The cool thing about it is that it happens all across the city, with kutcheris (musical performances) happening across different sabhas (venues for musical performances), so the best way to experience it is to find a sabha near you to check out. Alternatively, you can check out the biggest one, the Madras Music Academy for jaw-dropping auditory experiences. There’s also amazing South Indian food at all such events, so don’t forget to take time to eat after!
Our Best Food Is Served At Roadside Joints
Street food in Chennai is where the culinary treasure chest is at. From coconut water being sold by roadside vendors at INR 25, to amazing mutton kola urundais (mutton kheema fritters) at INR 30 from the Trouser Anna Kadai in Mandaveli, to local sundal (chickpeas) at the beach you’ve got a whole range of cuisines available to you. Good places to try street food are around the busiest parts of the city, i.e. both beaches, T Nagar, Mandaveli and Mylapore.
Our Cafes Are Better Than Our Bars
Chennai may not be known for the coolest pubs and bars but we have a host of Pinterest-worthy cafes. Places like The Flower Power Tea Room and Swiss Hutte, really feel like someone lifted a café from the UK and just plonked it in the middle of this city. They’re as beautiful as what you’ve seen in other countries and have a host of scones, teas, and cakes through the day. There’s a lot more with our café scene with places like the Wandering Artist, Ashvita, Backyard, and the Amethyst functioning as a stage for local events, and sometimes even a co-working space, in addition to being a café. So while you may just be going there to get a coffee, keep your eyes and ears open and you might find cool events happening in and around your neighbourhood.
We Have A Rapidly Growing Stand-up Comedy Scene
With a high powered theater group like Evam based in Chennai, our stand-up comedy scene has grown exponentially in the last few years. While the North may have the Kanan’s and the Biswa’s, we have our own homegrown talent that continuously sells out shows across the globe. While Aravind SA and Karthik Kumar are arguably our most famous stars, there’s a strong foundation beneath them that is constantly churning out comics. Places like the Backyard and Amethyst function as springboards for most beginner comics. For more info on the comedy scene in Chennai, check out our recommendations on comedy sets through the week here.