Oil, citrus, pepper, and garlic are the mainstays of many basic salad dressings. Add Worcestershire sauce, parmesan, egg yolks, and anchovies (!) and you have the makings of a traditional Caesar dressing. If this is your first time learning that those tiny fish are a staple in classic Caesars, just know they’re to thank for the salty, umami flavor that comes shining through in every bite.
As someone who orders a Caesar salad every time I see it on a restaurant’s menu, makes a homemade dressing whenever I’m feeling stressed, and considers it my “reset” meal after a vacation (by day three in Las Vegas this past summer, I hunted down the closest Caesar I could find) I felt seen by all of the recent Caesar love on my FYP. Despite my excitement about the recent trend, it got me thinking… why is the internet so obsessed with Caesar salads? Why now?
The Caesar salad has been around for decades (an Italian restauranteur, chef, and hotel owner named Cesare “Caesar” Cardini patented the dressing in 1948), but as of late, it has met a sort of renaissance online. According to a representative from TikTok, the tag #caesar has 620.9M views, with 230M of those views rolling in over the last six months. #caesarsalad and #caesardressing have 189M and 3.5M views, respectively. People are using the platform to share their own Caesar recipes, remake Caesar recipes beloved by celebrities like Snoop Dogg, and even rate Caesar salads in their city.
To really appreciate the lasting love for Caesar salad, one must first understand its history. In 1927, Cardini, an Italian man who immigrated to America, opened up a restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico. (He chose the location to escape Prohibition in the United States.) The most widely accepted version of the salad’s origin is that he invented it at Caesar’s Restaurant-Bar in Tijuana, when he wanted to find a way to use leftover food scraps since they were running low on ingredients. To this day, the dressing served at Caesar’s Restaurant-Bar uses minced garlic, mustard, anchovy fillets, Worcestershire sauce, egg yolk, lime juice, olive oil, and Parmesan cheese, and is served over a bed of uncut romaine with one single crostini. It’s a slight difference from the classic Caesars many know today that use lemon juice or mayonnaise and are served alongside cut lettuce and tons of croutons. Now, individuals are taking to TikTok all these years later to share how they prefer their very own Caesars.
While there has been a recent surge of salad videos on TikTok, some users on the platform have been focused on green, leafy dishes for years. The Salad Lab, a page with 2.1M followers, is run by California-based food blogger Darlene Schrijver-Hunkapiller. She remakes celebrities’ favorite salads, remixes meals like bagels and lox into salads, and recreates salads from popular chain restaurants.
When it comes to a good salad, Schrijver-Hunkapiller looks at the flavor, the quality of the ingredients, the freshness, and says, “of course, it's good to have a crunch.” Of the hundreds of salads she’s shared on her page, Schrijver-Hunkapiller thinks Caesar is one of the most popular, not only because of its flavor but also because of the nostalgia and emotion it could bring out in those who eat it.
“[Caesar] was the only salad my son would eat. It was always requested at family gatherings so I would always make the dressing by hand. It resonates with me and my family and I think that may be [true] with other people too,” she says.
Marissa Dankosky, RDN, a New Jersey-based registered dietician nutritionist, agrees that food with good memories attached to it can provide a sense of solace in times of stress. “Foods can definitely be comforting emotionally, just by the taste. If you like the way [a food] tastes … it can improve your mood for the time being,” she says.
But not everyone who has hopped on the Caesar trend in the last six months on TikTok has those nostalgic ties to the savory salad. Influencer Kit Keenan, a self-proclaimed “year-round Caesar girl,” admits that when she saw Caesars start trending on TikTok she realized she hadn’t had one in years. The trend inspired her to start sharing videos of herself trying Caesar salads from all over her hometown of New York City in an attempt to find the best one, and given how common Caesar salad is on restaurant menus, they’re easy to find. “I love the little community of Caesar girlies that follow me and tell me which Caesar I should try next,” she tells Bustle.
Keenan estimates that she’s had over 20 different salads from around the city (her top three include Emmett’s on Grove, Emilio’s Ballato, and Carbone, although takeout from Westville is an honorable mention) and she looks for certain details when ranking her salads.
“The three main criteria [I look for] are parmesan — lots of parm — crispy croutons, and a good salad base. I prefer romaine. All of my Caesars [rankings] are based on how those three ingredients go together,” she says. While she prefers to leave the classic anchovies out of her homemade dressing, her reestablished love for Caesar has transcended the salad bowl. She recently shared a recipe for Caesar chicken wings on her page. A Caesar pasta salad is in the works for her TikTok account and she insists it’s “getting better and better each time” she makes it.
According to Dankosky, along with being trendy, Caesar can be a good meal to eat when you feel like you’ve strayed from your routines. Because it’s salty, crunchy, and refreshing, it’s a vegetable-packed meal that doesn’t taste boring. “A Caesar salad could be [a good reset] because it tastes good and it does have some veggies in it. If you want a more nutrient-dense option, maybe you can get some spinach leaves in there because it's a dark leafy green versus just the iceberg lettuce or maybe you can put some kale in there as well,” she says. “Then you can put some type of lean protein on top like grilled chicken. If you're a vegetarian, you could always choose chickpeas or some type of bean.” Ultimately, the beauty of Caesar is in the eye of the beholder.
So is there a clear answer as to why the Caesar salad has cemented its spot in the TikTok salad lovers’ zeitgeist? It’s clear that the taste and widespread availability have something to do with it. The emotional connection some feel to the crunchy, leafy, creamy, and cheesy meal could also be responsible. Ultimately, it could just be another trending food that spread through FYPs like wildfire, but the way it can be tailored to your personal liking — Kale or romaine? Parmesan or pecorino? Anchovies or no anchovies? — doesn’t hurt.
“The croutons can be totally different. You could do cubes, you can use butter, you can use oil, you can use garlic, you can do a combination with cheese,” Schrijver-Hunkapiller says. “Some people cut the lettuce, but historically you don't cut the lettuce. Charlie Puth talks about how he eats his Caesar salad with his hands. It's a whole phenomenon.”
Marissa Dankosky, registered dietitian nutritionist
Darlene Schrijver-Hunkapiller, founder of The Salad Lab
Kit Keenan, lifestyle influencer