As a host student living with a Danish family for a semester, I am pretty reliant on my host family for food. They make sure I have enough food to make it through the day and are constantly introducing me to various forms of Danish food. Trust me, there’ll be a whole other blog post about that as some of their food choices are…weird…to me at least. However! I still wanted to make something for my host family to give back and introduce them to what I usually eat. And if there is one meal that is the epitome of Minnesota cuisine, easy to make and the ingredients can be found everywhere it’s tater tot hotdish.
Going into this, I thought the experience of making a Minnesotan dish in Denmark wouldn’t be too difficult. Yeah there’d be some differences but they’d be easily fixable. Turned out, there are basic aspects of American food/groceries that you can’t easily find in Europe. Or Denmark at least. While I knew that I would need to convert from our American measurements to the measurements used by literally everyone else in the world, I wasn’t too concerned about getting the ingredients. After all, basically all it calls for is ground beef, cream of chicken soup, a shit ton of cheese, sour cream and, obviously and most importantly, tater tots. Once we transferred the ounces and pounds into grams it was fairly easy to find the beef, cheese and sour cream. And then we reached the tater tots and cream of chicken soup. At this point is only fair to thank a former DIS blogger, Emma or denmarkbound.wordpress who is also from Minnesota, whose blog popped up as I was trying to google this particular issue. Thanks for going through this struggle and blogging about it for me and offering me advice! Now lets return to my struggle with this hotdish and start with attempting to find this soup.
Now as any American who has ever been in a grocery store, specifically in the soup aisle, I was fully expecting a similar thing in a Danish grocery store. You know, walk down the aisle and find the Campbell version along with about ten others. This was not the case here. My host parents were trying their hardest to figure out why I would need cream of chicken soup from a can as they had never heard of that. They did, however, explain that we could make our own soup from scratch. This is apparently fairly common in Denmark as many families prefer to cook this way rather than using pre-made ingredients for most of their dishes. As I grew up with the aforementioned grocery store experience and where many recipes I used called for easily obtainable cans of cream of chicken soup, I had no idea how to make soup completely from scratch. While John and Karina were confident that we could make the soup rather than using a can, I was less sure so Karina and I decided to go to a grocery store in Copenhagen to see if they had it in a can.
Now, I’m still in shock about this, so are you adequately prepared for what I’m about to tell you? When I mentioned that we would be needing tater tots, my host parents informed me that they had never heard of tater tots. Now those of you who know me well will know that I am slightly obsessed with tots. Half of my friendship with Maddie is based off of us arguing over whether fries or tots are better (its tots I promise). As this was half of my diet this past summer thanks to working at a bar with a copious supply, it is shocking to be somewhere where my host family had never even heard of tater tots. It would be extremely difficult to make tater tot hotdish without tater tots, so it was vital to find a solid substitute. We came up with a few different options for a substitute, but I was holding out for some good ol’ tater tots.
So Saturday morning Karina, Andrea and I drove into Copenhagen so we could go shopping at a store called Bilka. Bilka had a sizable international food section, although the America section was fairly small compared to some of the other ones. However, we still found a vital ingredient: the can of cream of chicken soup. I was rejoicing that I wouldn’t need to learn how to make this soup from scratch, no matter how helpful it may be in the future, or add so much more time to baking this hotdish that usually takes less than 20 minutes to prepare before throwing it in the oven. I also found a Butterfinger, which I just need to mention because I love Butterfingers and you can’t really find them outside of the US (just like many other US food and candy items). So with a can of cream of chicken soup and a Butterfinger in hand, I set off to find me some tots. Well, that’s a small lie as we had more on our list. So Andrea and I began racing about the produce section trying to beat the other to the ingredients we needed, even though I had no idea what half of them were because everything’s Danish, and I learned how to shout “Undskyld” at people as we raced by. Undskyld, for all of you who don’t know, is Danish for both “I’m sorry” and “excuse me”. Eventually we found everything and the hunt for the tater tots was on. We found ourselves in the frozen potato section when the truth I’d been ignoring forced itself into my reality: there were no tater tots. I went into mourning and circled the area a few times in disbelief; after all how could a store have curly fries but not tater tots?! Luckily, Karina had a few tricks up her sleeve and grabbed a few bags of Pommes Rosti, which is like tater rounds (a flattened tater tot) except they’re about three times the size. With our not tater tots and my can of soup, we returned home to try to make supper.
That night, it was up to Andrea and myself to make supper which was an experience. As many of you probably know, cooking in a kitchen that is not your own is a slightly strange experience. You aren’t entirely sure how things are done in this new kitchen or where exactly everything is. Now imagine that, except you’re also in a new country where sometimes you don’t know the word for what you need in Danish or English (depending on who’s asking for what). As we got started, I knew I’d need to make changes to the traditional way of making the hotdish (i.e. mixing everything together in one bowl and then dumping it into the pan) as the Pommes Rosti were huge and there was no way we would be able to mix and get an even spread. The result: it seemed like we were making a lasagna rather than a tater tot hotdish. It was fairly amusing to make this with Andrea as she had never witnessed something so unhealthy being made before and was constantly trying to tell me that we didn’t need to add more cheese (you always need to add more cheese). I could tell that she was unsure of this meal and I was too, if I’m being completely honest. I was placed in a family that did its best to have a healthy meal every day, or at least make sure that it was made with organic ingredients and was mostly health, and here I came with one of the most unhealthy dishes you could think of. An entire bag of cheese? 16 ounces of sour cream?! TWO POUNDS OF TATER TOTS (in the traditional version anyways)?!?! Yeah, this was unhealthy for my host family and I wasn’t sure how it’d be received.
Luckily, everything turned out amazingly and the hotdish was just as good as I’d hoped! Even with our tater tot substitute. We also mixed some tomatoes with fetta cheese as a side dish so that we had something that was healthy to go with this meal, so I’d call it a win-win. My host family claimed to enjoy it and they each had seconds, which is always a good sign!
Our finished product
It was a fun experience to create such a Minnesotan dish and introducing it to my Danish family. Needing to find a substitute for the most vital part of the dish was interesting, and not something I need to try to do again anytime soon it made the experience all the more exciting. Creating a dish so important to me while they are giving me the foods that they love as well was a nice trade off that I’d like to try again. I’m thinking of attempting a roast beef commercial, another essential Midwestern meal that isn’t quite as unhealthy as the one I forced on my family Saturday. We’ll see what happens as the semester goes on. This experience also allowed me to teach my Danish family some important lessons about the English language and Minnesotan culture, for example while hotdish and casserole are basically interchangeable, the correct term is hotdish and most Minnesotans, including myself, will fight you over this.