Story behind Caesar Salad

What is the story behind Caesar salad? There is no doubt that one of the most nationally sampled, craved and popular salads in the United States is the “classic” Cesar Salad. This nutritious and flavorful combination of crunchy creamy and fresh intake has undergone many changes in its culinary existence. I wonder: How many people really know the true identity of such prized delicacy?

I remember my dad telling the story of two Italian brothers, Alex and Cesar Cardini, who lived in Tijuana and owned a restaurant close to the year 1930. According to the story, some American pilots came into the restaurant but there was not much to offer in the restaurant.

The Cardini brothers decided to serve the salad their own mother had created out of the only ingredients in her pantry when they were children in Italy and poverty was prevalent in their family.

Needless to say, Caesar salad was a huge success. César Cardini patented a bottled version of the dressing and from there on it was mass-produced in the United States. I must say I am much more fond of Mrs. Cardini’s recipe, where scarcity combined with creativity and skill to come up with a magical formula that nourished her family efficaciously and deliciously and somehow (I suspect it was the other brother) made its way to Mexico City where it was given first-class treatment.

Early on in my childhood in Mexico City, I remember, it was only served in high-end Italian restaurants. Ordering a Cesar salad implied a special occasion in which there was a formidable display of events since this was not any salad… no sirreee! This salad was eaten with a fork and knife and required 2 people share it (the menu was clear about it). This forced fellow diners to further their relationships while creating culinary alliances. 

However, without a doubt, the greatest attribute Caesar salad offered was that it was prepared at the table. The waiter not only took your order and bussed the tables but he transformed into a gastronomic alquimist and within five minutes he would thrash, crush and flatten an anchovy fillet inside a beautiful wooden salad bowl, add golden streams of extra virgin olive-oil, squeeze a lemon, integrate a soft boiled egg and sprinkle with a few drops of “Maggi” sauce. All of this magic was done with only a tablespoon.

From a cloth napkin he would take the romaine whole lettuce leaves and from a small plate he would take the freshly fried pieces of bread and then incorporated everything back into the bowl where the lettuce and the bread bathed happily in the sauce. Right around minute 4:45 he would serve two very attractive plates of Cesar salad. The final touches were freshly grated Parmesan cheese and cracked fresh pepper. One could not help feeling a part of the process and privileged of being the fortunate diner who would enjoy such exquisite food.

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