Mexican Culinary Traditions, the culinary travel company helmed by James Beard Award-winning Chef Iliana de la Vega (El Naranjo, Austin) and her daughter, food writer and Mexican Cultural Anthropologist, Isabel Torrealba, announce their exciting line-up of delicious guided tours throughout Mexico in 2024.
The mother-daughter team carefully curates each tour and guides their guests through an immersive experience in the culinary traditions of Mexico. During these trips, guests are treated to an in-depth understanding of local culture; arts and crafts; beautiful and luxurious lodgings and amenities; a worry-free and hassle-free week of food and exploration; and cherished, shared experiences amongst like-minded people who enjoy traveling and eating.
“Traveling Oaxaca with Iliana is not just another tour, it’s a culinary tour de force – an edible expedition into the extraordinary culture(s) and history of this unique, original place of Mexican civilization. Generally, I’m not inclined to take guided tours, much less to tout one, but this small-group journey with de la Vega (who is Oaxacan, and a fabulous chef to boot) provides a perfect mix of indigenous and modern Oaxaca. Plus, you get to eat the whole thing!” said Jim Hightower, Former Texas Agriculture Commissioner, author, public speaker, and radio commentator.
2024 Culinary Tour Trips:
OAXACA CITY: Ancient Traditions Alive
FEBRUARY 16-22, 2024 / MARCH 8-14, 2024
SEPTEMBER 20-26, 2024 / DECEMBER 10-16, 2024
Sitting in a valley, Oaxaca City offers stellar panoramic views of the surrounding mountains from anywhere in the city. Its colonial buildings, decorated with contrasting colors and green sandstone, set the stage for imposing baroque churches and convents, bustling markets, intricate arts and textiles, and an exquisitely complex cuisine with roots as old as the archeological sites around the city.
MEXICO CITY: Where Worlds Collide
APRIL 24-30, 2024 / OCTOBER 15-21, 2024
Formerly Distrito Federal, Ciudad de México has been garnering a reputation as a top cosmopolitan destination. In Mexico City, modernity intertwines with vestiges of the Aztec Empire and a dynamic culture that can be witnessed in the fiber of everyday life. From its innumerable museums to its energetic culinary scene that ranges from the best street food in the country to the most elevated epicurean experiences, this city has it all.
YUCATÁN: Modern Tastes & Mayan Traces
JANUARY 12-18, 2024 / DECEMBER 2-8, 2024
Step back into a time of boulevards lined with stately mansions and haciendas with luscious gardens in Mérida, the capital city of Yucatán state, which mixes colonial grandeur with a strong Mayan history. Surprisingly, this city has remained largely under the radar for travelers. Until recently, that is, as artists and creatives have been transforming grand houses into boutique hotels, restaurants, and cafés. With a deep indigenous heritage, Yucatán has kept alive many of its pre-Hispanic traditions, present in its culture, architecture, textiles, customs and, above all, its food.
MICHOACÁN: Indigenous Flavors
FEBRUARY 8-14, 2024*
Michoacán has the beautiful Pacific coastline to the west and a range of mountains and lakes to the east, making it a widely diverse state. From the vibrant traditional clothes and textiles to the architecture of pre-Columbian towns to archeological sites built by the Tarascan (Purépecha) Empire, Michoacán and its capital city of Morelia are dripping with history. And nowhere is this more visible and tangible than in its cuisine, which mixes indigenous ingredients and practices with those brought by the Spaniards during colonial times. After studying Michoacán’s food customs and traditions specifically, UNESCO named Mexican cuisine an Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity in 2010. And once you take one bite out of a corunda, an uchepo, or a taco de carnitas, it won’t be hard to understand why.
*Optional day extension to visit the Monarch Butterfly Reserve
About Chef Iliana de la Vega
She has won worldwide acclaim for her restaurant and cooking school in Oaxaca, El Naranjo, which was featured in numerous newspapers and magazines, such as The New York Times and Bon Appetit. The reincarnation of El Naranjo in Austin, has been recognized as the best Mexican restaurant in the city. Before the brick-and-mortar restaurant opened, de la Vega owned El Naranjo Mobile and Catering, a successful food trailer that was called, “the only real Mexican restaurant in Texas” by Texas Monthly magazine. She is a 2019 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Southwest, a 2020 James Beard Award semifinalist for Best Chef: Texas, and a 2022 James Beard Award winner for Best Chef: Texas.
Chef Iliana De La Vega grew up in Mexico City in a time when only European cuisines were viewed as elegant and worthy of being served at restaurants. Back then, and only recently, Mexican food was considered home cooking, prepared for one’s family but never for dinner guests. It was not fine dining, and Mexicans were not necessarily proud of their own cuisine. Her mother was from Oaxaca, which seemed mystical and remote in comparison to the Mexican capital. Her grandmother would often send boxes full of Oaxacan delicacies: earthy, smoky chiles, almond or vanilla laced chocolate, sesame seed speckled breads, and bags filled with fragrant spices like oregano and cinnamon. “It was like Christmas day for me, my mother was traditional with her cooking, hand-picking each ingredient from the market, making everything from scratch, and preparing each dish exactly as her mother and grandmother had before her. I loved watching her cook, going to the market with her, and travelling around Mexico with my family, tasting picadas in Veracruz, or cemitas in Puebla” says de la Vega. She found the flavors of Mexico complex, diverse, and soulful; nothing if not elegant. In hopes for others to see how worthy and tasteful Mexican food can be, and that it can be served as fine dining, she moved to Oaxaca and opened El Naranjo in 1997. She had always enjoyed teaching, and after a few people asked for my mole recipes, she opened a cooking school. Then a period of political unrest forced her family out of Mexico. She reopened El Naranjo in Austin in 2012, a few consulting projects allowed her to take chefs and companies to a couple Mexican cities, and after many requests for guided tours to Oaxaca, Mexican Culinary Traditions was born.
“Through El Naranjo and the culinary trips, I keep my dream of sharing the food and culture of Mexico with the world alive.”
About Isabel Torrealba
Though born in Mexico City, I consider Oaxaca City to be my hometown. It’s in this colorful and mountainous place where all my childhood memories take place. As the youngest daughter of Chef Iliana de la Vega, I was fortunate to call El Naranjo my home, and I spent my days hiding under tables and tablecloths, or inside pantries and kitchens, playing with the waiters and cooks, and, of course, learning to cook (and eat) Mexican food. As my mother had done with her own mother, we would often visit the nearby market—I even got lost there once. It fascinated me to see how easily she could navigate the aisles, her familiarity with the vendors, and how she just seemed to know what everything was and how to use it in her cooking.
I imagined I too would be a chef one day, so I helped the cooks make tamales, and assisted my mom in her cooking classes during the summer. Eventually, I realized my food related talents lie more with eating than cooking, so I became a cultural anthropologist and journalist instead. Still, food somehow seems to always find its way back into my mind, ending in a good amount of my research and writing. Because I believe food cannot be fully understood without proper context, I like to think of it—the ingredients, the rituals of eating—in relation to place, people, and the history and circumstances that lead to its creation. My travels, both the personal and shared, along with my food writing, are framed with this idea behind.