Napoleon Dynamite is a weird movie, but that is where all of its charm lives. The characters are deadpan, the plot is mildly absurd, and there is a random dance sequence; everything that geeks love. This movie was filmed for around 400k, which is change compared to most films and ended up grossing over 44M. It has developed a cult following which keeps the characters of Napoleon, Pedro and Uncle Rico in our peripheral pop culture more than ten years later.
I love this film and Jon Heeder as Napoleon, a listless and unenthusiastic teen that spends his days drawing ligers, working on his hacking skills to impress chicks, and feeding his grandma’s llama. Napoleon also lives with Kip, his brother who’s searching for love. They are being looked after by their Uncle Rico who is constantly reliving his glory days of high school football while their Grandma enjoys a trip to the dunes. Napoleon’s bizarre family life is interrupted when his best friend Pedro, decides to run for class president. Napoleon pulls out all his sweet moves to help Pedro win the presidency.
One of my favorite parts of the film and one of the most quoted is the tots scene:
(Napoleon has snuck tator tots out of the lunch room and is eating them during class out of his pants pocket)
Randy: Napoleon, give me some of your tots.
Napoleon: No, go find your own.
Randy: Come on, give me some of your tots.
Napoleon: No, I’m freakin’ starving! I didn’t get to eat *anything* today.
(Randy kicks the pocket with the tots, crushing them)
Napoleon: Ugh! Gross! Freakin’ idiot!
My husband was eating a hotdog and tots lunch with my girls a few days ago and I reflexively quoted Randy’s line at him and it clicked: why not make some tater tots on my own?
The obvious use of tater tots in the film is based on setting; tots are generally associated with grade school lunches. The high school serves as the backdrop for the majority of this film so the tots make sense.
A closer look at the scene in which the tots appear gives us a deeper look into Napoleon’s personality and how he is generally regarded at his school. He sneaks the tots out of the cafeteria to eat during class even though he hasn’t eaten all day; this alludes to the fact that he is a loner. The overall conversation with Randy demonstrates that Napoleon is not only a loner but an outcast; largely ignored by the other kids but occasionally picked on. Randy demands the tots like a bully would demand lunch money; when Napoleon refuses to give them up Randy responds as a bully would, and administers an act of aggression. This whole scene is demonstrative of Napoleon’s place in the high school pecking order.
For research for this post I looked up several DIY tater tot recipes and found ones that covered a wide spectrum including spicy, savory, sweet, and everything in between. I felt I had to put these tater tots in context, so I decided to go with the most basic recipe I could think of; perfect for mimicking a mundane high school lunch.
The recipe I developed was surprising easy and probably something I will incorporate into my actual food rotation. The tater tots were simple to assemble and they can be frozen and reheated later which is a big selling point for me. To start, I chose some russet potatoes and par boiled.
Then I shredded them and mixed with flour and salt and pepper. The hardest part was shaping them into the actual tots, but with practice and patience I was able to get them to resemble the normal tot I am used to seeing.
I was very pleased with the end result. The taste was appropriately plain and the texture was exactly how I remembered them from my own high school cafeteria. They were nostalgically perfect. When I make these in the future I plan on adding spices and some other flavors to suit my current tastes. I suggest anyone making these to do the same unless you really pine for that high school cafeteria realness. Regardless of how you like your tater tots flavored they will always be a classic grade school food, just as Napoleon Dynamite has become a classic film.
High School Lunch Tater Tots:
2 pounds Russet Potatoes, peeled
1 Tbsp Flour
salt and pepper to taste
Shortening for frying
- Place potatoes in a large saucepan and cover with cold water by 1 inch. Bring to a boil and cook until parboiled, about 6-7 minutes; drain well and let cool.
- Using a box grater, finely shred potatoes.
- Transfer potatoes to a large bowl. Stir in flour; season with salt and pepper, to taste. The mixture should be workable but dry. Form potatoes into tots.
- Heat vegetable oil in a large stockpot or Dutch oven over medium heat.
- Add tots to the skillet, 5 or 6 at a time, and cook until evenly golden and crispy, about 3-4 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate.