Discovering the origins of the meals we love is something we at The Vintage News always look forward to doing, as it is a perfect excuse for an extra lunch break.
The name of the Ceasar Salad might give you the idea that it was The Roman Emperor’s favorite dish, or even that he had invented it. However, Julius Caesar had nothing to do with this crunchy crouton delight.
Like most food origin stories, this one is also widely disputed and difficult to prove. Nevertheless, the most widely acclaimed story of the creation of the salad includes Italian immigrant, the American National Holiday, and Mexico.
The story goes that an Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini created the salad in Tijuana, Mexico on 4 July in 1924. According to The Telegraph, Cardini and his Brother Alessandro moved from Italy to San Diego and later decided to open a restaurant just across the border in Tijuana, Mexico, to lure in Americans frustrated by Prohibition.
According to Caesar’s daughter Rosa Cardi, when a Fourth of July weekend rush drained the kitchen supplies, her father improvised with what he had on hand and threw a bunch of ingredients together, serving the concoction to the guests. To add a dramatic flair to it, he prepared the salad at the tables. Luckily, the improvised dish caught on and became one of the most fashionable Hollywood meals.
Understandably, almost all of Cardini’s staff have claimed that they invented the dish. Paull Maggiora, a partner of the Cardini’s, said he was the one who tossed the first Caesar’s salad in 1927 for American airmen and called it “Aviator’s Salad.” Caesar’s brother Alessandro also claimed that he created the salad in Tijuana in 1926 and added anchovies to the concoction, he too allegedly named it “Aviator’s Salad.” One staff member claimed that the iconic salad was his mother’s recipe, and that when he made it in Cardini’s kitchen in 1925 Caesar stole the recipe from him.
Regardless the endless variations of the recipe, or its origin, this perfect combination of basic ingredients made the salad one of the most popular American dishes. The first documentation of Caesar salad dates to 1946, when the newspaper columnist Dorothy Kilgallen wrote:
“The big food rage in Hollywood — the Caesar salad — will be introduced to New Yorkers by Gilmore’s Steak House. It’s an intricate concoction that takes ages to prepare and contains (zowie!) lots of garlic, raw or slightly coddled eggs, croutons, romaine, anchovies, parmesan [sic] cheese, olive oil, vinegar and plenty of black pepper”
In Julia Child’s Kitchen, the famous cook recounted her visit to Cardini’s
“My parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don’t. They only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? And garlic-flavored croutons, and grated Parmesan cheese? It was a sensation of a salad from coast to coast, and there were even rumblings of its success in Europe.”
The International Society of Epicure in 1953, declared the salad “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.”