For the Love of Tots

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We went to our first Hot Tots game last week, and it brought back a flood of memories about the affinity North Dakotans have for tots. Photo, Amy Allender

Let’s talk about tater tots.

Is that a weird opener? To be honest, I’ve been battling a bit of writer’s block. I’ve sat in front of my laptop for an embarrassingly long stretch–typing and deleting paragraphs. It’s summer, it’s fair time, back to school supplies are appearing on shelves. I could talk about any of those things, and maybe I will in the future.

But, my mind keeps coming back to tater tots.

Last week my family went to our first ever Minot Hot Tots game. From start to finish, we had a great time. Perfect weather. Great seats. Good hits. Delightful food. Everything a typical baseball game should be.

Except for one thing: The tater tots.

Obviously the mascot of the Minot Hot Tots is a tater tot. That in itself is a bit “niche.” But, it’s taken a step further by serving tater tot hotdish as a concession. I’m not from around here, but I’ll assure you other stadiums are not serving casseroles (yes, I said it casserole) as game-day fare.

Plate of tater tot hotdish. “When I told friends we were coming to the game, they all said the same thing: You’ve gotta get the tater tots. Photo, Amy Allender

All the tot imagery got me reminiscing about how much NoDak locals love their tots.

My first inkling that there was a special connection between North Dakotans and tater tots came way back in 2012 when I had first moved to Minot (for the first time.) The military-contracted moving crew had spent the day hauling all our worldly possessions into our newly purchased home.

As dinnertime closed in I gathered the crew up and told them I’d be ordering dinner for everyone. Being new in town I asked what they wanted–open to easy suggestions. “Go to Taco John’s for six-pack-and-a-pound. It’s cheap and easy,” said the leader.

“Okay. Like a six-pack of tacos? And a pound of what?” I asked.

“Yeah–it’s tacos and a pound of José Olés.” Upon seeing my confused face he added, “José Olés are like tater tots.” Another pause in which he must have seen me pondering tater tots with tacos, he said, “They’re good. Everybody likes tater tots, right?”

Then we all laughed, because I suppose most people do like tater tots. But young, naive Amy had no idea how much North Dakotans could truly enjoy their tots. I had no way of knowing how important this food was to the local culture, or how hard I’d fall for tater tots myself.

As the years moved on, I realized how deep the affection for tater tots runs deep. There was the first time I ate Tater Tot Hot Dish at a potluck, and was quickly reprimanded for calling it a “casserole.” And the appalled look I got when I told someone my husband’s family makes a version of it, but calls it Alpo–after the dog food, because that’s what it looks like.

Or the time I told a local I’d never made tater tot hotdish, at which they immediately replied, “Oh, it’s so easy! And you always have what you need to make it on hand–so it’s perfect when you don’t know what else to have for dinner…” Then, she recited the whole recipe by heart.

I didn’t have the heart to tell her that my not-from-around-here kitchen isn’t regularly stocked with frozen tots and cream of mushroom soup.

Let’s not forget that time there was a small train derailment and the news story was pretty vague, except for the explicit detail that the cars affected had been carrying tater tots. If there was ever a news-worthy detail–that is it.

This is an actual grocery shelf when severe winter weather was predicted. Luckily, I was only there to pick up bread. Photo, Amy Allender

Lastly, no conversation about tots is complete without recalling impending blizzards. If strong winter weather is predicted, don’t casually go to the store expecting to find cream of mushroom soup (make that any “cream-of” soup,) or frozen tater tots. The locals will have beaten you to it. Shelves will be bare. Because if it’s a blizzard, it’s got to be tater tot hotdish. Nothing else will suffice.

All this to say, we had a great time at the Hot Tots game. I ate heaping plates of tater tot hotdish, and loved every bite, while I reflected on my own journey from casseroler to hotdisher. From tater-tots-are-okay to tater-tots-are-a-mainstay.

I love the people of North Dakota–affinity for tots included. And as much as I poke fun at the locals for loving tots–as a local to Northern Indiana, my own oddly-strong affection comes out when corn is mentioned. Indiana’s corn really is the best, and corn can be added to just about anything. Wait, I’m spiraling. We all have our passions.

I’ll never tire of watching humanity unfold up here in HotDish Land. As many days as I have to spend here, I’ll count them all as good, magical in the quirkiest way possible.

To connect with me, catch tips on Minot living, and building a mindset that promotes joy, peace, and contentment, join me on Instagram (@amy_allender) and Facebook (@amyallenderblog).

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