Two things to know about this salad. It was not named after the Emperor of Rome and it hails from Tijuana, Mexico.
The original salad contained romaine lettuce, coddled eggs, garlic, Worcestershire sauce, lemon juice, olive oil, freshly grated Parmesan cheese, croutons, salt and pepper. No anchovies.
There are two viable theories about the origination of the salad.
The first theory is that chef and restaurateur Abelardo Cesare “Caesar” Cardini created the famed salad. Cardini was born in Baveno, Piemonte, Italy (Northern Italy) on February 24, 1896 and after World War I Cardini and his brother Alessandro "Alex" immigrated to the United States. The Cardini brothers opened a restaurant in San Diego but later closed the restaurant due to Prohibition. The brothers set their sights on the city that the party crowds went to; Tijuana, Mexico. It was there the brothers set up their new restaurant and they were as busy as ever. On July 4, 1924, according to Cardini's family, the salad was created during a busy weekend. The restaurant was short of supplies when Cardini learned that a Hollywood crowd was coming for dinner. Cardini did not want to disappoint his famous customers so he whipped up the salad with what he had on hand. To add flair to his creation, Cardini personally prepared the salad tableside. The salad soon became a hit; people came to the restaurant, especially from Southern California, just to get the meal. Originally, the salad was not eaten with forks, but rather with fingers. Each plate was prepared with the stems of the lettuce facing out, and the remaining ingredients placed on each leaf.
The Caesar Salad gained popularity in Europe, thanks to one very famous couple. Mrs. Wallis Warfield Simpson, mistress and future wife of Prince Edward VIII was a visitor to Caesar's Restaurant. It was said that Mrs. Simpson would often party in Southern California and Tijuana, and this is where she would met her future husband, at the Hotel Del Coronado. She became such a fan of the salad that she demanded the meal at all the great European Restaurants she traveled to. Mrs. Simpson provided instructions to the chefs on how to recreate this dish, though she was often disappointed. Shortly, the Caesar Salad was heard ordered around the world. In the cookbook by Julia Child "From Julia Child’s Kitchen", she described her experience at Caesars restaurant when her parents brought her to Tijuana. "...The salad is tossed at the table, my parents, of course, ordered the salad. Caesar himself rolled the big cart up to the table, tossed the romaine in a great wooden bowl, and I wish I could say I remembered his every move, but I don't. They only thing I see again clearly is the eggs. I can see him break 2 eggs over that romaine and roll them in, the greens going all creamy as the eggs flowed over them. Two eggs in a salad? Two one-minute coddled eggs? The Romaine was not chopped into bite size pieces but left in whole leaves. Caesar felt the natural shape of the leaves is a perfect scoop with a handle so it could be eaten with the fingers. So the leaves were arranged on a plate with the tips to the center and the stem outward for easy grabbing."
1938 Cardini moved to Los Angeles where he opened a gourmet food store. His patrons followed, arriving with empty wine bottles for him to fill with the dressing. In 1948, the demand for Cardini's famous dressing encouraged him to bottle it and to establish Caesar Cardini Foods with his daughter Rosa. He continued with the business until he passed away on November 3, 1956.Today, you can still buy the Caesar Cardini bottled salad dressing at the super market.
The second origination theory comes from Cardini's own brother Alex. Alex stated that he made the salad based on their mother’s recipe, in the kitchen of Caesar's restaurant in 1925, and that his brother took the recipe from him. Alex's version was actually called the Aviator's salad as he made the meal for a group of Rockwell Field Air Force pilots who woke up at Caesar's restaurant after a night of parting. On that day, the Aviator Salad was created in honor of his new flying buddies. Alex Cardini eventually moved to Mexico City, opening three restaurants, and this salad was listed on the menu as "the original Alex Cardini Caesar salad". The primary difference between his version and his brothers was the addition of anchovies, which is now a popular ingredient for Caesar salad in upper-class restaurants today.
The Caesar Salad has made its mark on food history. In 1953, the International Society of Epicure in Paris declared the classic salad, which by then was popular in Europe, “the greatest recipe to originate from the Americas in 50 years.” Who ever created it, and when, this salad has not only outlasted other 'classics' from the period but has grown in popularity ever since.
Pictures from www.classicsandiego.com and the San Diego History Center