History of the Caesar Salad

This Caesar Salad is one of those dishes which carry a bit of mystery behind it. What’s mysterious about are two seperate items:

  1. Who first made it?
  2. What was first in it?

For the first time, I have no clear answers. But I can give you some ideas.

As for the “who first made it?” question, there are several stories that seem to make the route, with only one of them not revolving around a little restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico.

The Non Tijuana version is as follows: According to the 3rd edition of “Webster’s New World”: Caesar Sald is “so named in honor of (Gaius) Julius Caesar by Giacomo Junia, Italian-American chef in Chicago, who invented it c. 1903.”

Out of all the stories, this seems least likely, as no one can verify this either in documentation or in anecdotes. But it’s out there as one of the stories and needs to be at least addressed.

The other stories revolve around one Caesar Cardini, who operated a restaurant in Tijuana. According to Caesar’s daughter, Rosa, Caesar tossed the first salad on the evening of July 4, 1924, when friends came in looking for something to eat. It was late, and there was very little left in the kitchen. The friends didn’t mind and essentially said “make us whatever you can”. From there, Caesar’s salad was introduced into the world.

There are several claims that Caesar sorta fudged this anecdote. Paul Maggiora, a partner of the Cardini’s, claimed to have tossed the first Caesar’s salad in 1927 for American airmen from San Diego and called it “Aviator’s Salad. Caesar’s brother Alex had claimed to have developed the salad (he too allegedly called it “aviator’s salad”). Livio Santini claimed he made the salad from a recipe of his mother, in the kitchen of Caesar’s restaurant when he was 18 years old, in 1925, and that Caesar took the recipe from him.

Considering all the claims to the Caesar salad from Tijuana, it seems more likely that the salad had at least come from Caesar’s kitchen. As to who actually created it? That’s up for dispute.

Also up for dispute is what actually goes into the salad. Eggs, croutons, Romaine lettuce and parmesan cheese are all pretty much agreed upon, but there are disputes over anchovies, worcestershire and which citrus juice was originally used. As far as I can determine, anchovies are not in the original recipe, but were part of the dressing is his brother’s Alex’s version of “Aviator’s salad”, which has probably added to the confusion. Since Alex claimed that his salad was the true Caesar salad, many people have mistake one for the other.

There is some question as to whether lime juice was used in place of lemon juice, but I cannot find any documentation to back that up. As there are many slight variations to the Caesar Salad recipe, it would not surprise me that lime has been used at one point or another. But since Julia Child had recreated the recipe as best remember by Rosa Cardini (Caesar’s daughter), and that she uses lemon juice, it seems to me that lemon juice was the citrus of choice by Caesar.

Who knew that there could be so many questions based over one simple recipe?


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