The Caesar Salad: Born in Tijuana

For many years I believed that the famous Caesar Salad came from Italy. I was so sure I didn’t even bother to look for its origins until we came to Tijuana, Mexico and stumbled on them. Actually this is the place where it all started, later spreading around the world with some ‘improvements’ and improvisations.

I was in some small way right because the recipe was created by Italian immigrant Cesar Cardini, a restaurateur who opened a restaurant here in Tijuana. Cesar was actually living in San Diego, USA and had a restaurant there as well, but opened a second just across the border in Mexico where rules were much ‘friendlier’ during prohibition.

According to Cardini’s late daughter, Rosa, the salad was invented on US Independence Day 1924. The restaurant was running out of supplies so it was time for some improvisation with whatever ingredients were actually left.

The famous American chef Julia Child claimed that she already had this salad in the early 1920’s and it was made with anchovies, but Rosa insisted that the original recipe did not contain them. There is a story that Cardini’s brother, Alex, came to Tijuana in 1926 and he was the person who added anchovies to the salad. So, from that time Alex’s version was called the Aviator Salad and the original was given the title Caesar Salad after it’s creator. It sems that nowadays the Aviator Salad is forgotten but almost every Caesar dressing recipe includes anchovies.

Eating at Caesar’s Restaurant in Tijuana

So, after eating many versions in different places, finally here we are at Caesar’s restaurant ordering our first original recipe Caesar Salad in it’s birthplace! We have high expectations and high demands. The waiter arrives and clearly already knows what we will order, or at least one of the dishes. We were hungry so we ordered not just the salad but as we are in Mexico we took patatas bravas, some garlic shrimp and a couple of local beers.

Have you ever been in a restaurant where a waiter prepares the salad in front of you? I hadn’t, so that was a new experience as well. A little special trolley full of fresh ingredients was ready to impress us, just a couple of minutes later and voilà! Hmm, my first thought was actually ‘I kind of expected something more special’, but… just one minute later the words that came out loud from my mouth were ‘Wow it is so fresh and the dressing is just great’.

The original Caesar Salad recipe

You will find a lot of different posts with the ‘original’ recipe, some will have anchovies and others will not, some will use cooked eggs and some will use raw ones. This is the recipe for the version of the salad that is currently served at Caesar’s in Tijuana, which should be pretty authentic, right?

The key element is whole lettuce leaves not chopped ones so that you can pick them up by the stem and eat with your fingers. After washing, the lettuce should be kept in the fridge for an hour to crisp up. The croutons should also be big, like baguette slice, not little cubed ones.

  • A head of romaine lettuce
  • 4 large oven baked garlic croutons

The biggest job is to prepare the dressing and to make sure that every product is great quality:

  • 175ml Olive oil
  • 1 clove of crushed garlic
  • The juice of one lime
  • A coddled egg (boiled for about 30 seconds and allowed to cool)
  • 1/4 tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1tsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 Anchovy filets
  • A handful of grated Parmesan
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

In a bowl (it should be wooden apparently), mix together the mustard, anchovies, garlic, black pepper and some of the parmesan, then beat with a wooden spoon until it forms a paste. Add the yolk of the cooled egg and beat until it is thoroughly combined, then add the olive oil slowly mixing all the time.

Gently roll the romaine leaves in the dressing, then put on a plate and add the rest of the grated Parmesan, the croutons and salt and pepper according to your taste.

My recommendation would be to taste at least once the original version and afterwards feel free to be creative by adding extras.


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