So many restaurants claim to serve the real thing. Some have anchovies, others have bacon, some have one egg yolk mixed into the dressing, others have six. To the horror of purists, some even include chicken or seafood or, worse, commit the cardinal sin of leaving out the anchovies. Very few, however, dare to serve the Caesar, one of the greatest salads of all time, without Romaine lettuce. But in pursuit of the classic salad, it helps to be armed with a bit of history - and the original recipe. For its inventor, small-time chef Alex Caesar Cardini, everlasting fame came quite by chance. It is said that an unusually large group of people descended one night on his hotel in the Mexican border town of Tijuana. While they waited in a velvet-lined dining room, Caesar eyed his insufficient larder. He simply had to find a meal for his guests and the Caesar salad was born. The year was 1926, and his creation has since become one of the most popular salads in the world. The closest that any restaurant in Hong Kong has come to the real thing is probably Landau's. Several years ago, Grant Baird, the restaurant's former manager, received the lesson of his life on the basics of a true Caesar salad. 'This old Texan came into the restaurant one night and ordered Caesar salad. Then he called me over and said it was bloody awful,' recalled Baird. 'He claimed that he had been a regular visitor to Tijuana 40 years ago, had personally known Caesar and could recite the original recipe as Caesar himself had prepared it.' The Texan turned out to be Bill Rancin, the Dixieland connoisseur and record dealer. The recipe he attributes to Caesar goes as follows: 1 cup olive oil; 3 cloves garlic; 1 large Romaine lettuce; 1 egg; 3 slices French bread about 2cm thick; 2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese; 3 tablespoons wine vinegar; 1 teaspoon dried mustard; 1 lemon; 2 anchovy fillets; 2 drops of Tabasco; salt and pepper. Combine oil and garlic and soak overnight, remove garlic and brush the bread with it. Saute the cubed bread in a little oil until golden or bake in oven for 15 minutes. Coddle the egg. To do this, immerse it in boiling water, turn off heat and cover, remove after five minutes. Add vinegar, mustard, salt and pepper to the oil and shake vigorously. Break or scoop the egg over the prepared Romaine lettuce, which should be dry and cold. Toss with the dressing. Sprinkle with croutons, Parmesan cheese and chopped anchovy. According to Rancin, 'Caesar was never stingy with the anchovies'. Having said that, Colin Smith did make a few minor changes to this revered recipe after he took over from Baird as manager of Landau's five months ago. 'There is an awful lot of debate about what the classic recipe is, but the bottom line is that the dressing has to have garlic, mustard, egg yolks, anchovies, vinegar, extra virgin olive oil,' he noted. 'I changed ours slightly by adding a touch of Worcester sauce and now when we serve our Caesar salad, the waiter brings the raw egg yolk to the table and whisks it through the dressing in front of guests, before adding it to the salad. Adding the yolk to the dressing makes it more creamy.' Original or not, the Landau's version tastes great and at $58 is fine value. Elsewhere, prices range from $145 at Hugo's in the Hyatt Regency, where admittedly the Caesar is prepared from a side cart in front of guests, to $92 at Napa at the Kowloon Shangri-la and $90 at American Pie in Lan Kwai Fong. A few Caesar fans revealed their favourite haunts. 'You can't beat Dan Ryans for the genuine thing, for value [$52] and for portion size,' advised Mark Johnston, a native of California. According to Dan Ryans manager Michael Domer, the key to their salad was the use of classic ingredients like fresh Romaine and home-made croutons. But the search has been a less than satisfying experience for Susan Taylor, a Canadian who eats out at least twice a week and has been in Hong Kong for more than 10 years. 'I nearly always have a Caesar salad when it's on the menu, but after all these years, I am sick of bad Caesar salads; there aren't too many genuine ones in town. 'If I see iceberg lettuce, I send it straight back. My worst ever was at a trendy Lan Kwai Fong restaurant that served the lettuce leaves whole with enormous anchovies. 'The best I've had is at JW California in the Marriott.' One of the better Caesars is said to be found at the newly-opened Pavilion Restaurant. The recipe is similar to Caesar's original except for the black pepper, and is priced $80. This pursuit of a genuine Caesar is never-ending. But there are a few criteria chefs and gourmets generally agree on: it should have Romaine lettuce and no other leaf; anchovies and croutons are musts, as are garlic, mustard and egg yolks. Olive oil is to a Caesar salad what butter is to toast. If it is missing any essential, you could send it back - along with a copy of Caesar's recipe!