Caesar salad, from Tijuana to the world

In a day like this, the world-famous and delicious Caesar salad was invented in Tijuana by the Cardini brothers.

Caesar salad, from Tijuana to the world
Traditional Caesar salad - Photo: EPKIN
English 04/07/2019 18:22 Mexico City Anahí Gómez Zúñiga Actualizada 18:27
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A piece of romaine lettuce, with its juice overflowing the mouth. Caesar dressing, soft but deep, in the palate. The sudden but delicious explosion: a bite, the teeth chew, and the minuscule croutons crunch. The taste buds, sensory organs with their bittersweet festivity wallowing in the tongue. So much for a greenish scramble! Caesar salad, in addition to its rich flavors, holds, too, interesting stories.

The legend goes that it was in 1923 when this course, so acclaimed by people, was invented almost by mistake. According to Flavia Morán, chef teaching at the University of the Cloister of Sor Juana, who also takes Jame’s Trager’s book The Food Chronology as a source, says that it was in Tijuana, Mexico where the creation went out into the palates of the world.

In 1919, the XVIII Amendment, also known as the Volstead Act, came into effect in the United States, and prohibited alcoholic drinks. This made the American citizens cross the border just to have some drinks. Thanks to whiskey, a big economic revenue was displayed in frontier towns like Tijuana, where the Italian immigrant César Cardini established his business, a lodging he named Caesar’s Hotel.

While the famous gangster Al Capone took advantage of the prohibition for the illegal trafficking of alcohol, Alex Cardini, an Italian air force veteran, joined his brother César at his hostel. But the magic happened on the 4th of July, when American crowds arrived in Mexican northern territory to celebrate the Independence day of their country.

Alex Cardini was in charge of the kitchen, and when he looked for a way to feed the diners, he received a bitter surprise when he noticed that there were only eggs, romaine lettuce, an old bread, Parmesan cheese, garlic, olive oil, lime, and pepper. In light of the pressure to serve a course to the customers, Alex used the old bread to make croutons, and mixed the rest of the ingredients, and spread the final dressing on the lettuce. Then, he added a touch of Parmesan cheese over the course, strange until then; in such a way, the green and crunchy product was ready.

Those who ate it were delighted with the sparks of flavor. Finally, the lettucey monument was called Aviator salad. It would be until later, on an undetermined time, when the name would be changed in honor of the hotel managed by the Cardini brothers. Thus, in spontaneous labor, the famous Caesar salad was born.

According to chef Flavia Morán, the ingredients that were added later were anchovies and Worcestershire sauce, which give it a more sophisticated taste. “In 1982, the restaurant The Red Lobster put Caesar salad on its menu, it was the first to do so.” Little by little, the popularity of the food increased until it became “the Queen of the Queens of salads,” says the specialist.

The odd facts around this vegetarian delicacy are varied. Ady Guadalupe, who studied a technical career in gastronomy in the capital, remembers an urban saying in which the Duchess of Windsor demanded a Caesar salad on restaurants all over the world, and provided a card with the recipe so that the chef in charge would not make a mistake.

The food, its combinations and forms also evolve, they transform with the passing of the years and the arrival of wrinkles to the faces of those who saw the birth of a recipe. About that, Flavia Morán explains that there are two types of Caesar salad nowadays: the first is the one prepared on guéridon, a light table of small dimensions to facilitate its transportation.

The chief waiter brings the table in front of the diners to make the preparation before them, turning the process into a whole show; for this, there is a special salad bowl in which everything is mixed.

The second version is more modern, “I calculate that it was by the beginning of the 80s that the dressing started to be made in the kitchen,” refers the specialist. From her perception, using the blender to combine the ingredients enhances the dressing, since the fusion of flavors is better. Both types have their gustatory and color characteristics; while the seasoning in the salad bowl is yellow, in the blender, it acquires a whitish tone.

The Caesar Salad Festival takes place in Tijuana every year, and between the attendees are restaurants with different styles of cuisine, wineries, breweries, and tourists of different parts of the world. The visitors even queue up for as long as half an hour just to taste the traditional meal, which shows the international projection that the frontier town has achieved in gastronomy thanks to the Cardini brothers and their tasty invention.

When salad was served by slaves

In the annals of history, it is known that the Greeks and the Romans ate raw vegetables seasoned with salt. Since salt was the main ingredient, this meal was called insalare, later, the name was changed to herba salata, which takes us to the name we use nowadays.

In ancient Rome, when great banquets took place, the herba salata was served in the gustus or gustatio, which refers to the meal with which the culinary celebration was started. Conversely, they celebrated orgies that took place in the dining room. They dressed elegantly with garlands that crowned the heads of the guests; leaning on a divan, the slaves would bring them a low table where the dishes were put.

“Only the ruminants eat salad”

The opinions about this delicacy are far from complementing each other positively. In the vast way of time, several intellectuals have given the world their perspective on salads. That was the case of the well-known French writer Alexandre Dumas, who published in 1873 Le gran dictionnaire de cuisine (The great dictionary of cuisine), where he affirmed that “only the ruminants have been born to eat herbs and, because of that, salad cannot be in any way an adequate food for human beings, as omnivorous as they are, since the stomachs of men only segregate acids and do not digest herbs since they are dissolved by alkali.”

In contrast, chef Morán insist that she thought just as Dumas, however, the moments and the experience showed her the contrasts she had not seen. For her, salads are classified on two: simple and complex. The first are made up of a single element, while the second have several ingredients; within this last category there are also complete and accompanying salads.

An essential characteristic of salads is that all its elements must be fresh and without bruises.

Flavia insists that the alternatives this meal represents can be amazing: “In the salad, I find fascinating features; the way in which a single food achieves to mix different consistencies, textures, strong flavors with soft ones, different ‘crunchiness,’ and the way in which they are seasoned… It all is an interesting game in the mouth, very far away from ruminants.”

Today, Caesar salad is presented with great variants: with avocado, shredded carrot, chicken fajitas, tomato, etc. The same happens in the lettucey universe in all its generality, since each person can build his or her own salad, as long as the ingredients are fresh and the combinations delicious.

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