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The History of Caesar Salad

Note from Stephen Block;
Well you know I thought that I could confirm this for you.........Caesar Cardini was the person that first popularized this dressing, and yes his restaurant was in Tijuana . There are many legends that seem to accompany how it was actually started. However there are other people that are contesting even Cardini as the first to make this style of salad . So like most origins it is seldom clear. It's interesting that the radio was developed across the ocean in Europe at the same time that Marconi was inventing it in the United States and there was no TV, radio, telephone or any other communication between them.
It makes one wonder that when a good idea is ripe that it's time has come and it can pop up in several creative minds at the same time.

Here is the best article I have found on it , because I haven't written my own yet.

This is reprinted from an article by
Jim Rader , Merriam-Webster Inc.
American Food Folklore and Culinary History:

The standard "Caesar salad" legend credits the creation of the recipe to an Italian immigrant, Caesar Cardini, who operated a restaurant (or hotel and restaurant in some versions) in Tijuana. According to the canonical version, told by Caesar's daughter Rosa, he tossed the first Caesar's salad on the evening of July 4, 1924. The most detail I've been able to find on the supposed background of Caesar Cardini is in articles in the "Tulsa World" (July 9, 1997) by Rik Espinosa (whom I've also spoken to by phone), in "The Santa Fe New Mexican" (May 28, 1997) by Alan C. Taylor, and in the "Chicago Tribune" (July 23, 1987) by Peter Kump.

Caesar was born near Lago Maggiore, Italy, in 1896; he and his brother Alex emigrated to the U.S. after World War I. The Cardini's lived in San Diego but operated a restaurant in Tijuana to circumvent Prohibition. The canonical version claims that the restaurant was frequented by Hollywood stars such as Clarke Gable, Jean Harlow, and W.C. Fields; if this was ever the case, it isn't relevant to 1924, when Gable was a young unknown, Fields was still in vaudeville, and Jean Harlow was 13 years old.

The only person who actually claims to have dined at the restaurant is Julia Child, who, according to Paul Kump, said she was brought there by her parents and ate the salad at its source. After the repeal of Prohibition (1934) and the outlawing of casino gambling in Mexico (1935), the Cardini's sold the Tijuana restaurant and moved to the Los Angeles area. The restaurant still exists in Tijuana, though it has changed location a number of times.

In L.A. , the Cardini's are supposed to have sold a homemade version of their salad dressing from a store. In 1948, Caesar and Rosa began to commercially bottle the dressing, though because "Caesar salad" was in the public domain--which suggests it was pretty well-known--they could trademark only "Original Caesar's" and "Cardini". Rik Espinosa reports "Rosa told me that in 1953, the Paris-based International Society of Epicures called the Caesar's Salad [sic] the 'greatest recipe to originate from the America's in 50 years.'" (Allan C. Taylor gives as a source for the same information a public relations firm for the dressing manufacturer.) Caesar Cardini died in 1956.

There are also a number of non-canonical versions of the Cardini legend: according to Rik Espinosa, 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." (Maggiore and the two Cardini's were all veterans of the Italian air force during the war.) Paul Kump claims that Diana Kennedy (an oft-quoted authority on Mexican cooking) had met Alex Cardini in Mexico City before Alex's death in 1975, and that Alex claimed to have developed the salad (he too allegedly called it "aviator's salad"). (For those interested in the culinary details, Alex's version included anchovies, but that was not the way Caesar made it--in the canonical telling he got the fishy tang only from Worcestershire sauce.) Neal Matthews ("San Diego Union-Tribune", March 2, 1995) quotes one Livio Santini, an elderly resident of Tijuana, who claims 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.

A totally heterodox origin for "Caesar salad" appears in the 3rd edition of "Webster's New World": "so named in honor of (Gaius) Julius Caesar by Giacomo Junia, Italian-American chef in Chicago, who invented it c. 1903." Journalists only bring this etymology up to heap scorn on it (demonstrating by the way their complete incomprehension of the meaning of "Webster" in dictionary titles.) Is anybody out there in Cleveland on ADS-L? Where did this etymology come from?

The documentation of the collocation "Caesar salad"/"Caesar's salad" is thin. The first cite Merriam has is from the "Britannica Book of the Year, 1950", from the article "Fads of 1949": "In foods, fads were limited. Caesar salad was in vogue through the summer and fall, and slot-machine hot dogs still prevailed in the larger cities" (pp. 273-74). There have to be earlier cites out there, even if only from 1949, when the salad was supposedly popular (suggesting it had been regional until then?).

The "Tulsa World" article includes an illustration from an old postcard of the Cardini restaurant in Tijuana; I'm hoping to get a copy of the postcard from Rik Espinosa, who owns the original. This would at least document, to my personal satisfaction, the existence of the restaurant at one of its locations. (Espinosa, who grew up in southern California, and whose grandparents owned a hotel in Tijuana two blocks from the legendary restaurant, is a font of knowledge on Caesar salad lore and the Cardini's, not to mention Tijuana.)





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Last updated July 21, 2005