Tiny Facts: Caesar Salad Isn’t Named After the Emperor

published Aug 4, 2016
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(Image credit: Samantha Bolton)

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but Caesar salad has no relation to Julius Caesar, the Roman emperor of yore. It’s an understandable mistake to make though. It feels like the salad could be from the days of chariots and togas, right? It has the black pepper, eggs, and fishy flavor profile, all which are typically found in ancient Roman cooking. But, alas, it’s not the case.

Caesar salad was, in fact, invented in Tijuana, Mexico, in the 1920s. However, no one can agree on who can take credit for its creation.

A Whimsical Salad on Independence Day

One camp says it sprang from the kitchen of Caesar (Cesare) Cardini, an Italian immigrant who settled in San Diego and opened a restaurant in Tijuana. His daughter, Rosa Cardini, insists her father concocted the recipe on a whim on July 4, 1924 for American pilots getting drunk on Independence Day.

As the story goes, he took a huge wooden bowl and mashed eggs yolks with garlic, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese. This creamy, pungent dressing was then poured over romaine lettuce. It’s said Caesar insisted on preparing the dish tableside, making a big show of assembling it, which is how it’s still served in many places today.

If you’re wondering why this all went down in Tijuana of all places, blame America’s Prohibition laws. Lots of restaurateurs and bars set up shop south of the border to evade Prohibition restrictions.

A Riff on Mama’s Recipe

Caesar’s brother Alessandro Cardini contests this version of events. According to him, they developed the salad together as a riff on their mother’s recipe. Alessandro added anchovies to the dressing and called it the “Aviator salad,” a nod to the pilots who dined on the dish.

Another Mama Deserves the Credit

A third theory exists, too. In that version, Livio Santini, an employee of Caesar Cardini, came up with the recipe as a nod to his mother’s recipe in Cardini’s restaurant kitchen. Santini claims his boss took all the credit.

While no one can agree who invented it, we can say with certainty this steakhouse staple wasn’t born in ancient Rome and has absolutely no affiliation with Julius Caesar.