HAIL, CAESAR!

Origin of popular salad linked to Tijuana


Story and photo by Katherine Larson
At last it’s June, and glorious lettuces are leaping out of our formerly ice-bound earth. Hasten out to your garden patch or to your local farmer’s market to get them at their freshest.
And then…?
Well, to my way of thinking, a Caesar salad is about as good as it gets. So I sat down with enthusiasm to research Caesar salads for this article. Whew! What a can of worms!
Everyone, it seems, has an opinion, and everyone believes that theirs is the only correct opinion. Usually I yield to no one in my level of opinionated stubbornness, but here, faced with a barrage of angry voices, I back off. Instead, I offer you some history—or quasi-history—and some often-conflicting ideas.
First, the history. No, Caesar salad has nothing to do with Julius Caesar, or Augustus either. Instead, it’s named after a man named Cesare who was either a great improvisational cook or a great appropriator of ideas.
Cesare Cardini and his brother Alessandro were born in northern Italy, then immigrated to the United States—Cesare before and Alessandro following World War I. After working as a chef in Northern California, Cesare opened his own place in San Diego. Prohibition offered opportunities for restaurateurs near the border, so in 1920 he started a second restaurant in Tijuana where southern Californians could enjoy an alcoholic beverage with their meal.
The Los Angeles Times called Tijuana “the city that was Vegas before Vegas was Vegas,” and the glitterati flocked there. On a summer weekend in 1924, so goes the legend, thirsty Los Angelenos cleaned out Cesare’s restaurant so completely that he—or his brother Alessandro, or his kitchen helper Livio Santini, or someone—did what chefs do: pulled together something to eat from what was on hand…

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