I Love Tater Tots But Hate Napoleon Dynamite: My Search for Tots in the UKPhoto by Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash Food Features cooking
As a Canadian living in the UK, there are many things I miss about Canada: family and friends for sure but also certain foods. Moving to the UK left me nostalgic for the comfort food of my childhood. I eat pretty healthy these days, but sometimes, I have a craving for familiar favorites like pizza pockets, bagel bites and tater tots. Especially tater tots.
Some may point to 2004 indie favorite Napoleon Dynamite as the moment tater tots entered global consciousness, but I’ve always been a fan. Their golden cylindrical shape, crunchy on the outside, full of hot shredded potato on the inside, are the stuff dreams are made of. In my mind, they are the most superior potato product available, above fries, chips and even hashbrowns.
My search for tater tots began innocently enough. I Googled to see if they were available anywhere in the UK. My hunger for them only increased upon finding out that they were not. Not long after, I came across a cookbook based entirely on tater tots: Tots! 50 Tot-ally Awesome Recipes from Totchos to Sweet Po-tot-o Pie. Despite having no access to tots, I bought it. When I saw that the cookbook included a recipe to make your own tots, I thought I’d struck potato gold! I was a bit worried when I saw potato flakes in the recipe. The real tater tots were full of shredded potato, not potato flakes. Nevertheless, I carried on.
The result was disappointing. What I had made tasted good, but it was not tater tots. Back to the drawing board. At this point, I was incredulous that the UK did not stock this fine frozen food. I decided I must have been mistaken and that if I just looked hard enough, I would find them. I admit I was delirious with tater tot fever.
When I came across potato croquettes at the grocery store, I felt vindicated. Maybe I was going about this all wrong. Maybe they just weren’t called tater tots here. I gleefully bought a frozen pack of potato croquettes, thinking I had finally solved my problem. I was disappointed once more. While the outside was crispy and cylindrical, the inside was filled with mashed potato—no shreds to be found.
I gave up on the search for a while, the disappointment too much to bear. I hit the jack-tot when ordering from Papa John’s one day: I saw tater tots on their menu. At this point, I was skeptical. Would they be potato croquettes again? Or something even worse? To my delight, when I opened the box, I could see that they were the real deal. The problem? They were lukewarm and soggy, being a food that does not travel well. But I was spurred on by my discovery. If Papa John’s in the UK could have access to tater tots, so could I.
I was happy enough for a while, knowing that if I wanted tater tots, they were one order away. It wasn’t ideal, but it would do in a pinch. The dream was finding them stocked in my local grocery store’s frozen food section. And one day, they were. I had long given up on finding them at that point, but being a lover of all frozen potato products, I still liked to check out the selection for any new additions. I had looped my partner into my tater tot saga. As a Brit, he had no idea what they were, but he understood that they were important to me.
One day, he came home with a surprise. He’d found tater tots in the unlikeliest place: German discount supermarket Lidl. We made them that night. I’m sad to report that my partner did not understand what the fuss was all about. Having not grown up with tots, to him, they were just another weird Canadian thing I reminisced about. But to me, they were everything. They took me straight back to childhood: eating the hot tots as a meal rather than a side.
And just as quickly as the tater tots, or “potato pops” as Lidl had labeled them, had come into my life, they left. The sign was no longer on the freezer cabinet, and we never saw them again. Our freezer was small, so we’d only been able to jam two packs in. Would they ever come back? I had no idea. The whole experience felt like a fever dream. Did I ever really have them, or were they just a figment of my imagination? But, no, I knew they were real. I had found them once and hope that I will again. So, the great tater tot search continues. I may hate Napoleon Dynamite, but he was right about one thing: next time I find them, I will not be sharing.