Sunday, September 20, 2009


Well, maybe that's not true. Caesar Salad became popular because so many people liked it and that won't change with the closure of the original Caesar's restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, this week.

But I, for one, am sorry that gang violence, the recession, and fear of swine flu have kept Americans from going south of the border to taste the original Caesar Salad. When I lived near San Diego--only six years ago--I went there several times, usually when our house guests from other places wanted to go to Tijuana to buy expensive prescription drugs at cheaper prices. We'd drive to the border, park on the U.S. side and walk across, then bus to the main street of town where pharmacies almost outnumbered the sidewalk hustlers who offered us hand-made toys, woven scarves and silver jewelry. Our friends would buy their drugs, using their own doctor's prescription (or one from the handy Mexican doctor in the back room) and then we'd go to Caesar's for lunch.

One of the perks of being there in person was that they gave us a business card with the original salad recipe printed on the back. This was important to me because--thanks to an article in our local newspaper which listed hot sauce as an ingredient in "traditional Caesar Salad"--I had researched the topic. Many of my cookbooks gave recipes for the salad, and all were different, but I found a book which told its history. (This was before Wikipedia.) Caesar Cardini was an Italian who emigrated to Mexico around 1918 and opened a restaurant. His brother Alex, who flew airplanes during WWI, joined him several years later and put together Romaine lettuce, croutons, a one-minute egg, lemon juice and Parmesan cheese, and tossed it with his brother's salad dressing. No hot sauce and no anchovies.

Because American flyers stationed in San Diego went to Tijuana often and loved the salad, it came to be known as "Aviators' Salad," but later simply Caesar's Salad, since one could only get it there. I remember my first one at a fancy restaurant where the waiter (as they still did in Tijuana six years ago) would put it together and toss it at your table if at least two people ordered it. Now, of course, you can get some version of it almost everywhere, even McDonald's. Except that these imitators invariably cut the Romaine in pieces, whereas the original used whole leaves.

I still have that business card from "Caesar's Palace," and if you want the entire recipe for four persons, with exact amounts of all ingredients, leave a comment. Meanwhile, raise your glass in a toast to Caesar while enjoying the most famous salad in the country.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Speak to me! I'm listening!