Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Fall/Winter 2006 issue.
This now-classic dish is said to have originated here in Mexico on the busy Fourth of July weekend back in 1924. Necessity the mother of invention, Italian-born chef Caesar Cardini was running low on supplies in his Tijuana restaurant when a group of Hollywood types showed up. So he gathered together what he had on hand — romaine lettuce, eggs, garlic, croutons, Parmesan cheese, olive oil and Worcestershire sauce — and whipped up a salad table side to keep them entertained, arranging the lettuce on plates stem side out so they could eat it with their fingers.
It was an immediate hit. Partially thanks to Prohibition, driving to Tijuana for a drink and a Caesar salad was the “in” thing to do in the ‘20s and ‘30s. And once its popularity spread to Europe, the International Society of Epicures in Paris voted Cardini’s Caesar the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.
Even the late Julia Child, one of America’s foremost cookbook authors, waxed poetic about her experience as a 12 year old eating a Caesar at Cardini’s place the year he invented it, including that authentic original recipe in “Julia Child’s Kitchen.”
Today, although rarely made in front of diners any more, this salad is exceedingly popular in all three NAFTA-member countries and a multitude of others. Here in Vallarta, it is not only one of the most requested appetizers in good restaurants, but increasingly ordered as a main course — especially when topped with chicken, calamari, steak, salmon or shrimp, any of which turn it into a hearty meal. And while some restaurants stay faithful to the original recipe, perhaps adding anchovies as Caesar’s brother insisted on doing, others improvise, substituting tortilla strips for croutons and cotija cheese for the Parmesan, for example.
Aficionados will be interested to note the variations offered at the following local eateries, which are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this romaine-based favorite.
“My father and other relatives who grew up in Tijuana are most proud that this salad originated there. And I have had the pleasure on several occasions of experiencing Alejandro Cardini’s Caesar salad at the Cardini in Mexico City. The Caesar at our restaurant remains pretty close to the orthodox recipe, just adding homemade marinated salmon with mustard seeds, salt, sugar and dill weed.”
Luis Fitch, Los Xitomates chef-owner
“When you know the history of Caesar salad, it’s certainly fitting that we offer it in our Italian restaurant in Mexico served the original way, with the leaves whole. And we add lots of fresh Parmesan and a wonderfully creamy dressing.”
Mario Nunes, Porto Bello co-owner