Monthly Archives: August 2011

Budget Oaxaca Restaurant El Gran Gourmet is Fabuloso

Keeps your eyes open, you might miss it!  El Gran Gourmet budget restaurant restaurant is tucked away in a narrow space at Avenida Independencia, No. 1104 in Oaxaca’s Centro Historico.  It’s about four blocks away from the Zocalo past Fiallo beyond the tourist areas (walking towards the Periferico).  Simple, clean, delicious and a bargain!  Who could ask for more?

My local friends eat there and I always like to join them because the food is reasonably priced and delicious.  Yes, you can eat great food in Oaxaca for under $5 USD per person — and that’s a three-course lunch that includes soup or salad, an entree and dessert.  If you want five-courses, it’s a little extra.  The aguas (fresh fruit juices mixed with water) are yummy.  Try the Agua de Sandia or Agua de Melon (watermelon or cantaloupe).   They use purified water and I’ve never gotten “the revenge” here.

Plus, there’s always a daily special.

Here’s the routine:  look at what the daily fare is that is displayed behind the glass serving area.  Choose your first course and entree from among the choices along the buffet.  But it’s not really a buffet, since you tell your waiter what you want to eat and drink.

Entrees can be pozole or enchiladas, or quesadillas, or chicken with mole, depending on the day.  There are rice and black beans.  Usually there is a tasty vegetable, garbanzo or tortilla soup.  Dessert might be flan or rice pudding or jello.  Everyone in Mexico loves jello.  If you don’t, this is a good place to learn how to enjoy this dense, not as sweet dessert treat!

Buen provecho! and be sure to leave a tip.  Ten percent is expected.

El Gran Gourmet, Avenida Independencia, No. 1104, Centro – (68000) Oaxaca de JuárezMéxico, Tel. +52 951 516 7822

Lonely Planet Names Oaxaca Cultural Navigator as a Favorite

We are excited that Lonely Planet has named Oaxaca Cultural Navigator as one of its favorite Oaxaca blogs!  All the posts and entries that I write appear on the Lonely Planet website whenever a traveler wants to find out more information about what to see, do and experience in Oaxaca.  I am really proud of this distinction.

I have been writing about Oaxaca since November 2007 — almost four years and I have written more than 500 posts.  What satisfies me most is that this website/blog is a resource for people who want to know about the people of Oaxaca, her culture, customs, art, food, safety, events and more.

Your feedback and suggestions are important to me.  So, let me know how we are doing and what else you would like to read about.

Saludos, Norma



New Oaxaca Restaurant, Pitiona, Dazzles

Pitiona: Cocina de Autor has just arrived onto the Oaxaca dining scene like a shooting star ready to dazzle the most discerning fan. Shooting stars burn out, but I am going to wager that Pitiona will establish itself like a celestial planet around which foodies will gravitate.

I was walking down Calle 5 de Mayo recently and noticed this little gem tucked away in a narrow space across the street from the venerable and elegant Camino Real Hotel. Her front windows were thrown open and I could admire the winding staircase, resplendent bar, crisp white table cloths, tables set with polished wine glasses and flowers, and handmade pottery chargers waiting for the diners to arrive. I filed it away as ambience worth exploring to see if the food matched.

Later that night, we were inundated with a rain storm and our plans to walk several blocks to a favorite restaurant were put asunder. Now, Pitiona to the test, as the restaurant was located only a block from Las Bugambilias where we were staying.

It did not disappoint. Unfortunately, I was so busy admiring the tasteful minimalist decor and snacking on homemade organic blue corn tortillas and smokey salsa rojo that I forgot to take many photos. Or, maybe it was that near-perfect Margarita before the glass of excellent Mexican Cabernet Sauvignon. I was captivated by the food.

Grilled sea bass with fresh chard, yellow salsa, garnished with wafer of ginger flavored crystallized sugar

By high-end Oaxaca dining standards, the prices are comparable to others in this category — Casa Oaxaca, Los Danzantes and to some extent, La Biznaga.  Be prepared to spend $16-22 USD per entree, $8 USD for a good bottle of wine, $6 USD for a Margarita tradicional with fresh lime juice.  The young chefs in the small second floor kitchen beamed when we applauded their culinary efforts. Well worth the price if you are on vacation.

Handmade clay chargers & coasters add flair

Pitiona: Cocina de Autor, Calle 5 de Mayo #311, Centro Historico, Oaxaca, Oaxaca, phone 951 514 4707, website:


Art Book Binding Workshop: Capture Your Travel Adventures

Make a Handmade Box within a Book: August 1-7, 2012

Using handmade local papers, and found objects and materials, you will learn to make a travel book with a self-contained box to hold your collected artifacts.  Each participant will design a book, prepare the papers and artifacts, stitch the binding, and make the box enclosure. The enclosed box can hold art supplies, treasures, or spiritual talismans.  This is a unique art book design created by our instructor Lisa Gilbert.  It is portable, versatile and beautiful.

A box within a handmade book

First, we will visit the Taller Arte Papel Oaxaca in San Agustin Etla where local papermakers use the traditional methods and incorporate regional natural fibers into the paper.  Here we will see the paper making process and then select text and cover papers for your personalized handmade book project.

During our travel adventures around Oaxaca as you explore the rich culture , you will collect personal treasures along the way.   Your book will reflect your unique travel experience as you move from markets, to museums, to art galleries and artist studios incorporating the textures, colors, and artifacts that exemplify Oaxaca.

Front cover has optional pockets

Each day begins with a book making demonstration, followed by a learning and practice session.  We’ll have daily discussion about how the project is progressing and have the opportunity to share our discoveries.  The workshop will culminate with a book exchange, best of week show, and fiesta.

You will:

  • Explore the anatomy of a book and how to construct one
  • Understand the fundamentals of the craft
  • Construct a sturdy box integrated within the book
  • Use the pamphlet stitch to bind the signatures
  • Make the finishing closures (e.g., paper beads, braided cords, etc.)
  • Insert envelopes to hold extra treasures
  • Apply foldout pages to extend your writing surfaces
  • Collect ephemera to be used for decoration (photos, collage elements, yarns, threads, buttons, beads, etc.)
  • No prior bookbinding skills are needed.  


  • Book artists
  • Art educators
  • Calligraphers
  • Artists and artisans
  • Printmakers
  • Anyone who wants to have fun and learn a new form of creative self-expression

We will provide you with a list of equipment and materials to bring with you upon registration.  You may want to bring your own ephemera (decorations) or purchase ephemera during your travels around Oaxaca. We’ll provide basic supplies such thread, needles and glue and give you a shopping allowance to select handmade papers from Taller Arte Papel Oaxaca.

Your Itinerary:  Each day includes plenty of time to work on making your book!

Use the box to collect milagros + embellishments

Day One:  Arrive and settle into your Oaxaca city hotel.

Day Two: Travel by van to San Agustin Etla to the papermaking workshop; select your handmade amate papers; discuss components of bookmaking; overnight in Oaxaca (group breakfast, lunch and dinner).

Day Three: Visit the innovative textile museum, graphics arts institute, and go on an ephemera treasure hunt; discuss project design and paper preparation; overnight in Oaxaca (group breakfast; lunch and dinner on your own).

Day Four:  Learn box making; project making and free time; overnight in Teotitlan del Valle (group breakfast, dinner).

Day Five: Visit the famed tianguis Tlacolula Market; discuss sewing the signatures; overnight in Teotitlan del Valle (group breakfast, lunch, dinner).

Day Six: Finish your book, book exchange, Best of Week Show and Fiesta; overnight in Teotitlan del Valle (group breakfast, lunch, dinner).

Day Seven:  Depart OR stay on for an additional day and night to take a cooking class with renowned local teacher (9:30 a.m. -2:30 p.m.—includes lunch)

Select your own papers, cover design, colors

Your Workshop Leader is Book Maker Lisa Gilbert  

Lisa Gilbert has been an enthusiastic book artist since childhood. She has been illustrating professionally, and teaching art and/or health for the past 20 years. Known for her use of color, finely tuned creativity, and excellent technical bookbinding, Lisa has been invited to show her work in two North Carolina exhibitions.  She has studied bookbinding, papermaking, and box making at programs across the U.S., and most recently completed a Penland School of Crafts program.  She has taught bookmaking classes throughout North Carolina, and has a reputation as a patient, encouraging, imaginative, and effective teacher.

Lisa considers herself to be a “cultural navigator” – a well-deserved designation since she has traveled to more than 25 countries.  She purchases, collects, and uses exotic papers on her travels, most recently from Panama, Scandinavia, and India. Lisa has visited papermaking facilities and bookbinderies across India and has fashioned books from wood, papyrus, metal, mica, fabric, plastic, vinyl as well as from traditional materials such as handmade and machine-made decorative papers.

She attended Colorado Institute of Art, holds degrees in art and business, and the PhD in health education from University of Maryland.  Her background is versatile and inventive.

Insert envelopes to hold extra treasures

Lodging/Accommodations. To keep this experience affordable, we have selected accommodations that are clean and basic.  We will spend three nights in Oaxaca and three nights in Teotitlan del Valle.   If you prefer luxury accommodations, please let us know and we can customize your accommodations for an added cost. 

Cost:  The basic cost for the trip is $1,295. USD. This includes six nights lodging double occupancy with shared bath, six breakfasts, three lunches, four dinners, transportation to the villages, all instruction and most materials.    Travel workshops of this type and length cost more than twice as much!

The program costs do NOT include airfare, taxes, gratuities, travel insurance, liquor/alcoholic beverages, some meals as specified in the itinerary, entry fees, and some transportation.

You will have the option of sharing a double room with shared bath for the base price of the trip.  Please indicate your preference.

Option A: Shared room with shared bath; $1,295. Deposit to reserve: $650.

Option B: Shared  room with private bath; $1,495. Deposit to reserve: $750.

Option C:  Single room with private bath;  $1,645.  Deposit to reserve: $823.

Option D:  Add additional nights lodging in Oaxaca, +$125 each night.

Option E:  Add one night lodging and cooking class in Teotitlan del Valle, $110 on Tuesday, August 7 (depart August 8)

Reservations and Cancellations

A 50% deposit is required to guarantee your spot.  The final payment for the balance due (including any supplemental costs) shall be postmarked by May 30, 2012.  We prefer Payment with PayPal.  We will be happy to send you an invoice.

Please understand that we make lodging and transportation arrangements months in advance of the program.  Deposits or payments in full are often required by our hosts.  If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email.   After May 30, no refunds are possible.  If you cancel on or before May 30, 2012 we will refund 50% of your deposit.  We strongly recommend that you take out trip cancellation, baggage, emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip, since unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, contact: or call (919) 274-6194.   Thank you.

This workshop is produced by Norma Hawthorne, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC.  We reserve the right to alter the itinerary and substitute instructors without notice.

The exploration of life is like creating an open book.


Liza Bakewell, MADRE: Perilous Journeys with a Spanish Noun, Gets Oaxaca Welcome

My friend and Oaxaca colleague Shannon Sheppard writes about her experience reading the book, her impressions, and connecting Liza with both the local and ex-pat community in Oaxaca. I think you will find her comments entertaining and informative. Click on the link above to read

My mobile office is now two feet from Highland Lake in Bridgton, Maine. Thank goodness for 3G and my iPad. There is no Wi-Fi here nor is there a landline. It is definitely a retreat and I can bring the world in as I choose. Liza Bakewell is on a neighboring lake about an hour from here with her daughters. She and I plan a meet-up next week.

Last night, Stephen and I had dinner with Nancy Coleman and Dulcie Whitman at Vignola in Portland. Great restaurant with even better friends. Nancy attended the Women’s Creative Writing and Yoga Retreat last March. It inspired her to write and submit to national literary journals and she is getting great response! Dulcie just completed the MFA and is teaching. My hope is to connect them with Liza who is bring together Maine women writers.

What an extraordinary world we live in! Now, for the lake.