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Salad Stories: The Perfect Caesar

Food smells good. Food tastes good. Food keeps us alive. It is simultaneously a desire and a need and, even more, a tangible, expressible way of connecting with those around us. I believe that food is one of the most powerful means of linking together humankind as we share our time, culture, desires, tendencies, and identities through the way– and what– we eat.

It was the summer of 1950. My grandfather was stationed in California, awaiting word of his imminent deploy to South Korea. He lived alongside other members of the Navy, each traveling from their home states and demonstrating various cultural and lifestyle disparities from those to which he was accustomed.

While the circumstances surrounding his stay in California weren’t ideal, he embraced the opportunity to develop relationships with a diverse group of men, ultimately gaining  a more enlightened world perspective.

Each man came with a different story, but the story that my grandfather told me, and that remains most prevalent in my life, involves a man named Armando. Armando was born in the United States, but his roots traced into Tijuana, Mexico. He was assigned to the same naval base as my grandfather, and it was there that they grew close. My grandfather, a native of Alabama, enjoyed listening to stories of Armando’s life; he relays them to me, to this day, attempting to emphasize the enthusiasm and passion with which Armando spoke, while simultaneously trying to minimize his own offsettingly deep, southern accent. I love listening to the stories he tells of late nights out, weekends away from the base, and the immense amount of culture that Armando shared with him.

One night at the naval base, “the boys” got together in protest of generic cafeteria food to cook their own meal. It isn’t surprising that a dispute arose as each man pitched in ideas of what to cook, all claiming that their family recipes were the best. Armando, who was generally soft-spoken and a bit passive, pulled out a wrinkled sheet of paper from a bag underneath his bunk, demanding that they include his Caesar salad recipe in the meal. Men chuckled and teased him; what could a man from Tijuana, Mexico, know about making an Italian salad??

Annabel's Grandpa

As it turns out, a lot. Caesar salad was invented in 1924 by a man named Caesar Cardini at his restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. Shocking, I know, that this “Italian” salad did not actually originate in Italy. Armando ignored the mocking and decided to make it on his own, knowing that his buddies would be nothing short of impressed. He used the recipe that his mother had tweaked and developed based off of Cardini’s original. As the salad bowl circulated around the table, a familiar silence was felt throughout the room; the type that occurs when you know, and everyone else at the table knows, that they are eating something good. Second and third servings were demanded, and my grandfather explained Armando’s reaction to me as humbly prideful.

It is important to take pride in your heritage and, likewise, just as important to open your mind to someone else’s. You never know what you’ll get. My grandfather saved the original recipe that Armando gave him that night, keeping it displayed in a glass recipe stand in his kitchen to this day. It has become a staple food item that my family enjoys, each member adjusting it slightly to their own liking. It actually may be one of the only recipes that every single member of my family loves. When I eat this Caesar salad, I am emotionally connected and thankful to a man that I have never even met: Armando.

This is Armando’s Famous Caesar Salad Recipe:

  1. Sprinkle Salt and Pepper- ½ teaspoon of each- into a large salad bowl.
  2. Add 2 tablespoons of tarragon vinegar.
  3. Add a heaping teaspoon of Dijon mustard, stirring until dissolved.
  4. Pour in ¼ cup of olive oil, continuing to stir to light mayo consistency.
  5. Add ¼ cup of Wesson oil that has soaked several hours in garlic cloves. Stir in.
  6. Add a teaspoon of Worcestershire.
  7. Add 2-3 dashes of Tabasco.
  8. Add 1 egg and squeeze in the juice of ¼ lemon and ¼ lime. Stir well.
  9. Add enough Romano to cover the top of the mix. Stir in.
  10. Add 1 handful of Romaine and more Romano. Add in more Romaine to desired taste.
  11. Add in croutons at the end.


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