Looking Backward Into the Present

Using the Popular Culture of the Past to Help Answer Perplexing Questions in the Present

Did the Caesar salad originate in Italy?

In the course (no pun intended) of planning Italian themed meals, I have often included the original recipe Caesar salad (with anchovy) as a way to appear more authentic and ethnically correct.  Much to my shock, when watching a Mo Rocca segment called “Hail Caesar!” on CBS Sunday Morning I discovered that the Caesar salad was first popularized in 1920s Tijuana, Mexico by a man named Caesar Cardini.

 

I, like many Americans, just assumed that the Caesar salad sprung from ancient Roman times when men like Julius Caesar and Augustus Caesar ruled the land.  But Tijuana? I couldn’t believe it. 

 

According to The Italian-American Cookbook, by Galina Mariani, the creation of the Caesar salad was a happy accident:

 

At Caesar’s Place [the name of his restaurant], on July Fourth weekend in 1924, Cardini, having run out of ingredients for main courses, concocted the salad as a main course, arranging the lettuce leaves on a plate with the intention that they would be eaten with the fingers. Later Cardini shredded the leaves into bite-size pieces.  It was the first main-course salad in the United States, where salads had previously been served only as a side dish.

 

But wait, if the salad was borne in Mexico what is it doing in an Italian-American Cookbook?  It is because Caesar Cardini was born in Italy and immigrated to Tijuana (near the border) where he could start a restaurant free of prohibition-era restrictions.  Thus, one could say that even though the Caesar salad was born in Mexico, it is Italian in its origins. 

 

Incidentally, The Italian-American Cookbook insisted that the original recipe of the salad did not include anchovies.  The original-recipe salad still lives on at Hotel Caesar’s in downtown Tijuana.    

Italian-Mexican restaurateur, chef, and hotel owner Caesar Cardini, originator of the Caesar salad

Italian-Mexican restaurateur, chef, and hotel owner Caesar Cardini, originator of the Caesar salad

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