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!
India Journal: Visit to Pure Ghee Textile Designs
Ghee, clarified buffalo or cow butter, is the essential cooking and flavoring oil in India. Ghee also has religious significance and is used at life cycle celebrations throughout the country. It is highly nutritious and is part of the ayurvedic system, which forms the basis of spirituality, food, and health.
Eating with one’s hands, to become one with the food.
One could say that ghee is the foundation of Indian life and culture, just as the tortilla is elemental to Mexico. I would venture to say that Aditi Prakash carefully chose the brand name Pure Ghee for the textile design company she started seven years ago to connect what she makes to what is second nature here. Elemental. Essential. Necessary.
Trademark cloth flowers embellish zipper pulls on scrap fabric bag
Aditi employs women who are migrants, takes them off the street, trains them in sewing skills and gives them employment. Women sew. Men complete the finish work, led by a master tailor from the neighborhood, who supervises the apprentices. There are two levels of quality control and each product is nearly perfect, just like ghee.
Pure Ghee staff member who oversees quality control
Aditi invited Nidhi and me to her home for a simple Indian vegetarian lunch, to see her workshop studio, so I could learn about the processes and products, and meet the staff who make the bags and accessories that make their way to shops and boutiques throughout the country.
Master tailor finishes edges of new bag design.
First, let’s talk about lunch.
Aditi says she uses turmeric in everything. Nidhi echoes this. Turmeric has antiseptic healing powers they say. They add it to yellow lentils with salt and cook the lentils in a stove top pressure cooker for about 30 minutes.
Ghee, chili mustard and curry leaves simmer on stovetop
In a separate spoon with very large bowl, Aditi combines about 1/4 c. ghee, fresh curry leaves, red chilis from her home state of Hyderabad, cumin and mustard seed. The bowl of the spoon goes over the gas burner until the mixture simmers and cooks, coming to a low boil.
Aditi serves lentil soup in small bowls, a garnish to rice and vegetables
This is added to the lentils, that now has the consistency of a thick soup.
In another cooking pot is potatoes, cauliflower and peas.
Food is ayurvedic, Aditi says. Nidhi adds that cooking is not written down but passed through the generations as part of the cultural tradition. She learned from her mother. Both are independent, creative women who prepare vegetarian meals in the Hindu tradition daily for their husbands.
Silk-cotton draw string bags worn with the sari for evenings, weddings
Homemade roti, a whole grain flat bread that looks like a tortilla (they both make this from scratch), and brown rice are served as a base for the lentils and vegetable medley. Everyone uses shallow metal plates that look like a cake pan.
Aditi Prakash in her showroom. People find us, she says.
We eat with the fingers of our right hand, important to bring the five elements from table to body, in complete circle of life and sustenance.
Traditional plaque in Aditi’s home.
Aditi’s husband is a filmmaker. Both work from home and they built a three-level workspace where each has dominion. Aditi supports craft artisans from throughout India and as an industrial designer, has helped many refine their products to bring to the marketplace.
Bag patterns hang in small workshop space
After lunch and a modest shopping spree (thank goodness Pure Ghee accepts credit cards), the three of us went off to the Nature Bazaar, a cooperative of crafts-people and textile artists from throughout the country.
Artist Nidhi Khurana, New Delhi, November 2016
Aditi says this has one of the best selections in all of Delhi, with very fair prices. It is off-the-beaten-path for tourists but well worth the visit. For me, it will need several hours. There are textiles, lengths of cloth by the meter, paintings and drawings, folk art, brass bells, sari, indigo and Khadi clothing, jewelry from Afghanistan.
Pure Ghee workshop in action
If you haven’t noticed, India is about color, texture and sound. It is about silk, cotton and the resurgence of tradition. Both Nidhi and Aditi say that the sari is standard daily dress for women.
Lunch preparation, a vegetarian Hindu meal with Hyderabad mango pickle.
I’m going back to Nature Bazaar today. There are over 100 vendors with central payment stations. And, yes, credit cards accepted. Perfect for the cash crisis in play now. I’ll be writing more about this. Perhaps tomorrow.
Sneak preview of Nature Bazaar: piles of indigo and block prints
Posted in Clothing Design, Cultural Commentary, Food & Recipes, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving, Travel & Tourism
Tagged accessories, bags, cooking, designs, eating, food, India, New Delhi, Pure Ghee, shopping, vegetarian