Is it possible to find and buy high quality textiles in Oaxaca at bargain prices? That was my question yesterday as Chris and I returned to Oaxaca city for her last day here on this visit. She loves to shop at thrift stores and on sale. I do, too, but I’m always on a quest for top quality. I don’t know thrift or consignment shops in Oaxaca (except for one listed below) where one can purchase good, gently worn handwoven Oaxaca clothing. I have favorites in Taos and Santa Fe.
Chris wanted to go back to Lake Chapala with a couple of Oaxaca huipiles. So, I named this day of foraging: Low Brow Shopping (more based on pocketbook limitations than taste) and set about to show her a few favorite places where I know the quality is very good and the prices much more affordable than the collectors’ galleries I know about. Often, these are the places that cater to locals, too.
The quest: How can we find a beautiful huipil or blusa for under $100 USD?
As for eating, in my humble opinion, its definitely possible to eat well in small comedors and restaurants that are not on the Andador Macedonio Alcala or adjacent streets like Garcia Virgil, Cinco de Mayo and Reforma. This is the hub of the tourist center and prices are higher here because rents are higher. To find, good cheap eats, go to the auxiliary streets and neighborhoods that are several blocks away. I still rarely, if ever, eat at food stalls on the street, mostly because of sanitation issues.
Three Favorite Oaxaca Bargain Shopping Recommendations (can you recommend others?)
- Hilo de Nube. These blusas and huipiles are handmade and embroidered in San Juan Guichicovi, a town in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec. The style is very distinctive to the region that offered a type of dress favored by Frida Kahlo. The Oaxaca shop is located at M. Bravo #214, Oaxaca Centro. Here, blouses start at $30 USD. They combine free-form, human-guided chain stitching embroidered by machine. Prices go up based on intricacy of design, and if the garment incorporates hand-embroidered stitching, too. Base cloth is high quality cotton, linen, or sateen. My friend Susie introduced this shop to me and I’m passing it along to you as a go-to spot for bargain-hunting fashionistas.
- Shop with No Name! I can’t give you a link because there is none. This shop is located just the other side of the Zocalo at Bustamante #119 about mid-block on the left between Guerrero and Colon, near musical instruments and CD shops. It is operated by Lilia Gonzales Bolaños. Telephone: 52-951-169-5965. What makes this shop great is that if you know your textiles, you can find excellent designer pieces hidden on the racks between the lesser quality goods. Perfect for the huntress in you! Look for the whimsical smocked blouses from San Pablo Tijaltepec, gauzy and finely woven cloth from San Mateo del Mar, natural dyes from Pinotepa de Don Luis.
- Artesanias Que Tenga Buena Mano. Operated by Francisco Hernandez, this little shop is found on Calle de Constituccion tucked into a step-down almost basement location next to Casa Oaxaca Restaurant. Textile offerings are limited but of excellent quality at fair prices. I even saw a piece woven by Teofila Palafox from San Mateo del Mar. Francisco also designs filigree jewelry and there is a good collection of pieces here, as well as funky folk art. Don’t blink or you might miss it.
- La Selva de los Gatos. The Cat Jungle! An all-vegan cat cafe & pet adoption center located at the corner of Calle Abasolo and Calle de la Republica, features a boutique of gently-worn clothing (I guess this qualifies as a thrift shop) they sell to raise funds to spay, neuter and adopt out stray cats that have been rescued. The vegan cafe serves up reasonably priced fare — eat a play with the cats, too.
Get a Oaxaca Lunch for Under $10 USD
Ok, we are not going to regurgitate the top-level $$$$ dining spots operated by award-winning chefs that show up on every travel site — the ones like Conde Nast Traveler or Travel and Leisure or Food & Wine — that recommend Casa Oaxaca, Origen, Criollo, Los Danzantes, Restaurante Catedral, Levadura de la Olla. At these spots, you can easily spend $25-45 USD per person for lunch, which is fine if you are on a limitless budget or splurge vacation. Here, a mezcal cocktail can cost you $12 USD, too.
At the humble comedors, the food is simple although it can also be complex. Wash it down with a good Mexican beer — Victoria, Negro Modelo, Tecate or Sol — or select a fruit water such as Agua de Pepino con Limon (cucumber and lime), Agua de Jamaica (hibiscus), or Agua de Sandia (watermelon). Good to give your wallet a break from time to time.
- Cabuche. This has been a long-time cheap eats favorite. Restaurant is owned by Rodrigo Fuentes Moreno who carved out his niche after leaving La Biznaga some years back. Pozole and tacos reign here. Lots of vegetarian options. You can get a big or small bowl of pozole, with white, red, or green stock, with vegetarian, chicken or pork options. The hominy is plump and delicious. My dish with pork was tender and easily chewed. Take your pick of taco fillings: huitlacoche, potatoes and chorizo, tinga de pollo, calabacitas, and more. Hidalgo #1017, in the block beyond the textile museum going away from the Zocalo.
- Casa Taviche. Go another block further on the left to find this hidden gem that many of us find to be among the best comedors in the city. The Comida Corrida, the three-course fixed price lunch offered by many places, comes with appetizer, entree, dessert and a glass of fruit water for under $10 USD here. Order a la carte and it can be more. Hidalgo #1111.
- Casa Bestia. I had a delicious brunch here a couple of weeks ago with Carol, Dean, Kay and Winn. It’s billed as an art gallery and co-working space, but it features a lovely outdoor dining area under some amazing shade trees. You can also find hand-made clothing in the gallery. They offer workshops and cooking classes, too. The kitchen serves up delicious gluten-free oatmeal pancakes and excellent lunch fare at moderate prices. Very relaxing. Located in the Conzatti Park neighborhood of Oaxaca. Gomez Farias #114.
Got recommendations for Cheap Eats and Bargain Shopping? Write us here!
What to look for when Bargain Shopping? Tips for discerning quality!
- What is the quality of the cloth? Is it 100% cotton or is it mixed with polyester?
- Do know for certain that the textile isn’t made in China? So much of what is sold on the street are Chinese knock-offs. Buyer beware!
- Turn the garment inside out. How are the seams finished? Will the threads unravel? Are the seams machine stitched or finished by hand? Are the stitches tight and even? A French seam with no exposed selvedge will hold up the longest.
- Are the threads naturally dyed or are these commercial threads? Are the dyes prone to bleeding or running (commercial or synthetic dyes will run if they haven’t been pre-washed)
- If the garment is back-strap loomed, are there any snags or imperfections? Do the patterns line up or are they mismatched?
- If there is embroidery, turn it inside out and look at the embroidered threads to discern whether they will hold up after several wearings.
- Can you wash this garment by hand and hang to dry or does it need to be dry-cleaned?
- Can the vendor tell you who made it and where it was made?
- Do you love it or are you buying it because of price?
Want to buy directly from the maker? Want access to Oaxaca state’s most important weavers who are renowned for their finest workmanship? Come with us on The Collector’s Tour!
Happy New Year 2017 From Mexico City
The clock strikes 2017. Yet the Zocalo in Mexico City today is almost empty. All museums and most shops are closed, too. Most Mexican families celebrate the new year at home. On New Years’ Eve last night there were only a few strollers in the Historic Center as everything closed up by 4 p.m. and people dispersed.
Restaurant Azul Historico patio, Mexico City, festive blue
I had an early birthday dinner with my son Jacob at Entremar in Polanco. After a great fish dinner and superb bottle of Valle de Guadalupe Nebbiolo, we returned to Hotel Catedral and I climbed into bed. It was not yet 8:30 p.m. I did not dream about sugar plums and fairies, but thought about the year past and the one to come.
Organ grinders on Mexico City streets, a dying breed
Tips for Visiting Mexico City Over the New Year Holidays
Aztec city of Tenochtitlan, Templo Mayor, under the Cathedral
No specific resolutions for me other than to walk and live with intention, focus on travel only between Mexico and the USA, spend time with family and friends, walk, reflect and do good in the world. The world needs our help.
Alameda Park, Mexico City. Warm enough for fountain play in December.
My son Jacob has been with me this weekend, the best gift I could ever receive. It was his first time in Mexico City. On our first full day, we explored the Diego Rivera murals at the Secretariat de Educacion Publica and the Orozco murals at the Colegio San Ildefonso, had lunch at Restaurant El Mayor, then pushed on to the Tenochtitlan Templo Mayor archeological site and adjoining museum.
Day of the Dead Altar to Frida and Diego, Museo Dolores Olmedo
On the second day, December 31, we started out for a visit to Casa Azul but when we got there discovered they were closing at 2 p.m. and had sold out all tickets in advance through online sales.
Special exhibition at Museo Dolores Olmedo
While we missed getting into the Casa Azul, we took an UBER from there to the Museo Dolores Olmedo Patiño near Xochimilco to see early Rivera works, the hairless xoloitscuincle dogs, and a special exhibition of Pablo O’Higgins, Rivera’s protege. NOTE: All paintings by Frida Kahlo in this museum are on traveling exhibition in Europe until April 2017.
Man, Controller of the Universe by Diego Rivera
Then, we saw more Rivera, Orozco, Siquieras and Tamayo murals at Museo Bellas Artes. When you get here, pay attention to the second floor mural painted by Diego Rivera, Man, Controller of the Universe. He recreates what was destroyed at Rockefeller Center.
The New Democracy, by David Alfaro Siquieros, Museo Bellas Artes, Mexico City
Art historians interpret the Siquieros mural (close-up above) as liberation from oppression. This was especially meaningful for me as we are experiencing damaging political changes in the USA that could likely effect social justice and environmental causes well into the future.
Close-up, The Torment of Cuauhtemoc, Siquerios depicts the oppressors
Here, art is a universal language and reminds us that we must be vigilant.
Another section of Siquieros’ The Torment of Cuauhtemoc mural, riveting, painful.
On the same day, we visited Rivera’s mural Dream of a Sunday Afternoon on the Alameda at the Museo de Mural de Diego Rivera.
Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Park, 500 years of Mexican history
Gathering for an outdoor Scrabble game on the plaza, Mexico City
Out in front on the plaza in front of this last museum, the chess and Scrabble players gather. I accepted an invitation to join a Scrabble game until I realized they were playing in Spanish and returned my tiles to the bag.
Jacob Singleton takes a photo of an Orozco mural
Museo Palacio Bellas Artes, Mexico City
In 2016, I legally changed my name to Schafer, bought a condo-apartment in Durham, NC, organized over a dozen workshops and study tours, contributed chapters and photographs to Textile Fiestas of Mexico book, volunteered at the International Folk Art Market in Santa Fe, commemorated the anniversary of our mother’s death, traveled to India, and went back and forth between Mexico and the USA to vote, attend to health care, visit family and reconnect with friends.
Cathedral candles, Mexico City
In 2017, I want to stay put more and be present in Durham, North Carolina, and Oaxaca, Mexico. I have friends who dream of becoming vagabonds, taking to the open road, living with more freedom and unpredictability.
Aztec sculpture, Tenochtitlan, Mexico City
I want to think globally and act locally, make a difference in North Carolina, USA to effect change and make a difference, continue to bring people to Mexico to understand her art, history, culture, textiles.
Happy New Year to all. May we each participate in creating a world we are proud to live in, with respect for family, diversity and uniqueness.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Travel & Tourism
Tagged Diego Rivera, dining, Frida Kahlo, Mexico City, muralists, museums, new year, Oaxaca, resolutions, tips, travel