Disclaimer: Originally published in May 2018. It is being republished since it still remains an interesting topic till today.
When you say the word “Sowcarpet” to a Chennaiite, their first response will be “shopping.”
A Shopper’s Heaven
Sowcarpet is a little neighbourhood in Old Chennai, made of narrow, rickety roads and old buildings.
Merchants display and sell cloth sourced from Gujarat and Rajasthan- goods which are not very easily available in the South (unless you count the duplicates stocked by malls- a dime a dozen).
It is an extremely popular destination in Chennai for bridal shopping, as it has a lot to offer in terms of clothes and jewellery for a bridal trousseau.
Leheriya, bandhani, and mirror work cloth, brass goods, juttis, heavy silver jewellery, and stalls selling kulfis that melt in the Chennai heat as customers laden with shopping bags stop to buy them- this is everyday life at Sowcarpet.
North India Culture
The Sowcar in Sowcarpet is a Tamilian version of the Hindi word sahukar, meaning merchant. Back in the days when Chennai was still Madras, there was a huge influx of Gujaratis, Rajasthanis, Biharis, and other North Indian communities- mainly people from poor backgrounds who came to seek their fortunes down South.
Today, in addition to being an amazing place to shop for fabric, Sowcarpet is considered to be THE place to go if you want to celebrate Holi in Chennai, thanks to its huge North Indian population (the Tamil culture, in general, doesn’t celebrate Holi).
In keeping with the extensive Marwari population’s culture, Sowcarpet is home to many Jain temples built in the North Indian style- a rare sight in a city famous for the traditional South Indian temple architecture of black granite and towering gopurams.
Chennai’s Street Food Capital
Chennai is not a city known for its street food, but if it’s street food you want, make a beeline for the bustling lanes of Sowcarpet, where you will be faced with a variety of chaat, jalebis, pao bhajis, kachoris, and so on.
One of Sowcarpet’s most famous eateries is Kakkada Ramprasad Sweets and Chat, set up in 1958 by Ramprasad Kakkada, and still going strong, having been taken over by his son Laxminarayan Ramprasad and grandson Ravi Ramprasad.
Another must-visit place to indulge your tastebuds in Sowcarpet is Anmol Mohit Lassi, owned by the Rajasthani wrestler Dinesh Soni. Novelty Tea House, set up in 1958, is another interesting eatery to visit if you want to try authentic Jain food.
The History Of Mint Street
Sowcarpet also shares a close relationship with Mint Street, which is a part of Chennai that’s doused in history. Set in the Georgetown neighbourhood, its north end touches the Old Jail Road Junction, and south end grazes Park Town, another bustling part of Old Chennai.
Initially, home to a 17th-century Jewish cemetery established by the Portuguese trader Jacques de Paiva, it became home to the East India Company’s coin-making facility in the 1800s, giving it the name “Mint Street.”
It is also home to Crown Talkies, one of Chennai’s oldest cinema halls, and Murugan Theatre, which played Kalidasa, the first Tamil talkie.
A visit to Sowcarpet is just a day trip for anyone in Chennai- whether resident or tourist- but is an unforgettable shopping and culinary destination that will keep beckoning you back for more.
Image Credits: Google Images