Literary City Guide | OAXACA, MEXICO


They say that in Oaxaca, they drink mezcal in coffee.
— Lila Downs, La Cumbia de Mole

Tour Guide: SUSANNAH RIGG

http://www.mexicoretold.com

Susannah has English blood coursing through a Mexican heart. She is a freelance travel writer who specializes in all things Mexican. She is the founder of Mexico Retold, a site focused on telling a different and positive story about Mexico and she lives in Oaxaca, Mexico. 

Q&A

Relationship to Oaxaca: I came to Oaxaca five years ago and although I have considered moving to Mexico City a few times something about the beauty and magic of this place seems to keep me here. 

Writer you’d like to invite to dinner: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I love every word she puts onto paper and I love her stance on feminism and race. We would have so much to talk about. 

Chef you’d like to prepare the meal: Alejandro Ruiz from Casa Oaxaca. He makes incredible food and is always smiling. 

Writing soundtrack: There is generally an eclectic mix of live mariachis and some 80s electro pop pumping into my office from the street outside. That mixed with the jingle of the passing gas truck, the whistle of the knife sharpener man and the seemingly continuous sound of hammering wherever I go, I have learned to work with noise. 

Pen or Pencil: Pen. Pencils I use to keep my hair-up but smudge when I write with them because I am left-handed

Coffee or Tea? Fresh herbal tea is my current drink of choice.

Paperback or Hardback? Paperback every time. I travel too much for extra hardback weight.


Good Reads


BOOKSTORES

Amate. A great English language bookshop that sells a whole variety of books mainly with a Mexican or Latin American theme, but they also stock some more general titles. You’ll also find nice notebooks for writerly inspirations that come often in Oaxaca. 

Librespacio La Jicara. This is a restaurant and bookshop that sells a really interesting selection of titles mainly in Spanish. It is also a great place to grab a meal or enjoy one of a whole variety of events from book readings to film nights. 

Liberia Hoja Vieja. Lovers of used books should head to Libreria Hoja Vieja a tiny little bookshop with a lot of soul. They have books in English and Spanish at a variety of prices. 

LIBRARIES

Bibliotheca Fray Juan de Cordoba. My favourite library to work in is the Biblioteca Fray Juan de Cordoba that lies within the Centro Cultural de San Pablo. It is a library of indigenous language and has a stunning, cutting edge modern design within a 16th-century Dominican convent. On Saturdays they often have live classical music playing which filters up to me as I work.  

Biblioteca Henestrosa. Home to over 60 thousand books and set within a stunning 18th-century building, the Biblioteca Henestrosa is named after Mexican writer Andrés Henestrosa. Growing up speaking only his native Zapotec language, he was involved in the first phonetization of the language. Make sure you go upstairs to see the large map of Oaxaca that you can walk upon and make sense of the city’s geography. 

Oaxaca Lending Library. The Oaxaca Lending Library is celebrating its 50th year in Oaxaca and is home to a good selection of English language books. Also look out for English language book clubs and talks. 

READINGS & CONFERENCES

La Bradería. A relatively new space that offers regular poetry readings and book presentations to encourage the voice of the community. They also boast an eclectic selection of books by independent presses and personally-selected high quality used books. There slogan can be roughly translated as “books, rareties and awesome sh*t”

Instituto de Artes Grafica de Oaxaca. The beautiful space that is the Instituto de Artes Grafica de Oaxaca also offers literature and poetry readings throughout the year. The Institute, founded by famous Oaxaca artist Francisco Toledo, also has a stunning café with a roof of bougainvillea that makes a lovely place to work. 

La Nueva Babel. For those who need a stiff drink or two before sharing their work, the Tuesday open-mic night at La Nueva Babel is just the place. There is always an eclectic mix of poetry, prose and songs during the night, which more often than not ends in dancing and a sore head the next day. 

OTHER FINDS

Library Tours. Those who believe that books are the greatest gift that we can give a child might be interested in taking a tour to one of the libraries stocked by the non-profit organization, Libros para Pueblos, who create libraries in marginalized villages around Oaxaca. The cost of your tour goes directly to funding the libraries and it is a unique chance to see this great work in action. 

Poetry in the Market. Every November for the last few years there has been a program in the huge market of Oaxaca to bring literature to the people. Abastos de Letras hosts poetry and literature readings and literature workshops within the maze of market stalls.

Street Art. Those who visit Oaxaca will notice that the walls tell a story. Street art tells tales of rebellion, struggle and social movement. Trayectivo offer locally run tours of Oaxaca’s street art and social art movements and are really worth seeking out. 

Good Eats


COFFEE SHOPS

Cofetarika. A pretty café that is set outside under a shaded cover full of plants and a view up to Oaxaca’s impressive sky, Cofetarika is a great choice for a very reasonably priced coffee or hot chocolate. 

Cafe Brujula. Cafe Brujula serves some of the best coffee in town and of the two branches in the center, I love the one on Alcala near the zocalo. Set around a pretty courtyard it is a great place to stop for a coffee and a sugary lemon cookie. 

Boogie Cafe Liberia. A cute little café that serves delicious cupcakes and coffee Boogie Café Libreria also sells books. 

Lobo Azul. A large café with good coffee and great fresh juices. Many of their dishes are named after famous activists from Mexico and beyond. The wi-fi is a little sketchy so if that is important ask the waiters where to sit for the best signal. 

A PROPER MEAL

Tobaziche. A new kid on the block, Tobaziche offers traditional Oaxacan dishes in a modern environment and as a bonus you get a complimentary mezcal as soon as you walk through the door. 

La Biznaga. La Biznaga is a long-standing restaurant that is still up there with my favourites. The service can be variable but the food is an interesting variation on Oaxacan classics and the margaritas are delicious. 

El Sazon Istmeño. I love the traditional Mexican comida corrida, which is generally a four course lunch with a drink for around $2-$5USD.  El Sazon Istmeño offers a great variety of quality dishes and the winning ticket for me is the fresh, handmade tortillas that accompany every meal. They also serve food from the Istmo region of Oaxaca. I recommend trying the Garnachas. 

Cabuche. If you are a fan of restaurants with a menu that changes with the season to provide the freshest options, Cabuche is your place. I particularly love their breakfasts that come with homemade bread and jam and fresh coffee and juice. 

Tacos Alvaro. I adore tacos al pastor and although I have yet to find anything quite as amazing as the al pastor in Mexico city, Tacos Alvaro definitely satisfies a craving. Make sure you ask for pineapple on your tacos though as it doesn’t come as standard. 

Danzantes. Duck tacos, soft Oaxaca cheese wrapped in hierba santa, shrimp covered in coconut in a sweet fruit sauce…if these get the taste buds going then head to Danzantes. The restaurant is on the higher end of the price scale, but certainly worth it. Oh and I forgot to mention the chocolate volcano dessert…how could I forget?

TREATS

It took me a while to get used to Mexican pastries (pan dulce) but once I got into them I couldn’t get enough. Try the conchas at Panaderia La Luna  

I love a fresh, cheap and tasty fruit juice from the market to start my day. My personal favourite is Super Jugos Angelita in the Sanchez Pascua Market. Juice in a bag with a straw…Perfect!

Oaxaca is famous for its chocolate and on a hot day the cold chocolate milkshake from Chocolate Mayodormo is just right. It is light and frothy and with that special Oaxaca taste and all for just 15 pesos. 


SUSANNAH's 5 Favorites


Favorite view: I love the sky in Oaxaca it is simply magical. So for me just walking outside usually offers the best view. However, I love the views over Santo Domingo from Mezquite and Casa Crespo.  

Favorite place to write: It can differ from week to week. Some weeks I am very productive in my home office and other weeks I have to get out to a café for some external stimulus or a library for some peace and quiet.

Favorite museum: I adore the Rufino Tamayo Museum with its collections of Mesoamerican artifacts.

Favorite coffee shop: La Brujula or Cofetarika both on Alcala

Favorite thing about Oaxaca: The everyday magic