While you can certainly find some excellent German bratwurst and Spanish chorizo at European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen in Beverly Hills, the biggest sellers at this small shop are the house-made South African specialties. Countless expats and visitors from South Africa regularly flock to the narrow and unassuming 69-year-old shop on Olympic Boulevard, stocking up on biltong, strips of air-dried beef that are a distant cousin to jerky; droëwors, a coriander-spiced dried sausage; and boerewors, a fresh sausage made with clove, coriander and allspice.
“We call Saturday, ‘South African Social Hour,’ says Jennifer Troub, who works at the shop with her parents, owners Gary and Andrea Troub. Andrea explains that Saturday tends to be the busiest days for their South African customers, who are responsible for roughly two-thirds of the shop’s sales. Many use the day off from work to drive from all over Los Angeles and even further afield, and the store is closed on Sundays. “We have friends meeting each other that grew up together in South Africa, and we even have family members meeting here,” says Andrea, adding that a day at the market often turns into a lively reunion for many from the region’s South African community, estimated to be around 30,000 strong in the L.A. area alone.
Stepping inside the bustling and intimate shop, you’ll find a long case full of dozens of varieties of smoked, cured and fresh links from around the globe, opposite a fridge and shelves that are neatly stocked with imported sundries such as imported dark chocolates, jars of sauerkraut and egg noodles for making German spätzle. Behind the counter by the door, you’ll find Hungarian sausages; Landjäger, a sausage popular in southern Germany, Austria and Switzerland; and plenty of other mostly European-style meats hanging in front of a stainless steel wall. But what’s likely to stand out most is the large sign featuring the South African flag and illustrations of eland antelope — which were traditionally used for making biltong. Below hang thick foot-long strips of biltong and even longer lengths of droëwors.
“I love it because it reminds me of South Africa, it's food from my country and it's yummy,” says Phina Richards, a customer originally from South Africa who now lives in L.A. “I moved in 1985, so it's been a long time.”
When the shop first opened in 1948, it specialized in European-style sausages as the name would suggest. But by the time the Troub family took over in 1999 from the previous owner Willie Kossbiel, the shop already had a loyal South African following. Gary, the shop’s chief sausage maker who grew up and learned the craft in Germany, explains the somewhat murky origin story of how the shop came to specialize in the South African meats. “It started with the South African Consulate-General who approached them in the eighties looking for someone who could make them,” though the story remains unconfirmed by the consulate. “And then, later on, we added more of the South African groceries like the cookies, chocolates and chutneys to add to the European ones,” he says as he gestures to the various jars of peri peri sauce and boxes of Nuttikrust caramelized oat biscuits.
Gary grew up next door to a butcher shop in Höhr-Grenzhausen, a small town along the Rhine River in Germany, and admits that it was inevitable that he would wind up learning the trade there, “I started when I was 15 and I'm still doing it.” He would go on to complete the rigorous meisterbrief for butchers, a seven-year long, guild-regulated certification process. While working at a butcher shop after the certification, he met Andrea, who was working the front counter. Born on a U.S. military base to an American father and a German mother, Gary explains that as an American citizen he never even had a German passport and had to renew a work permit every two years just to continue working in Germany. Throughout the 1980s, he went back and forth for work to the U.S. until the couple finally made the move permanent in 1989.
Gary then worked for ten years at the now-defunct Fred Reich's Hickory Sweet Meats in South L.A., which manufactured German and other European-style meats and sold them wholesale and to the general public, eventually becoming the manager there. European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen was one of the company’s clients and when Gary heard the business was up for sale, he jumped at the opportunity. The previous owner taught Gary how to make the biltong, droëwors and boerewors, though he admits that it didn’t take too long for him to get the hang of it. “If you're in the meat business, it's just another recipe,” he says. “The key is just to be consistent, always the same meat, the same spices, don't change anything and it works out good.”
According to the Troubs, the best seller is the biltong. “Some people call it beef jerky, but it's not exactly that given the way it's made,” explains Gary. “Beef jerky is sliced very thin and partially cooked to a certain temperature. We air dry [the biltong] to a certain dryness that is safe to eat, but it's not cooked. There's less heat and the flavor is different. We always use the same meat cut, the beef bottom round. It takes about seven days to produce.” Biltong, which translates from Afrikaans as "buttock tongue," has been produced in South Africa for centuries. While the technique of preserving meat by cutting it into strips, curing it with salt and allowing it to air dry had been practiced by indigenous communities for ages, the biltong we know today was heavily influenced by Dutch colonists in Cape Town in the mid-17th century. Vinegar was added to the curing process of wild game, particularly ostrich and various antelope such as springbok and eland, as well as spices such as coriander, clove and black pepper. The spices not only added a distinctive flavor to the game meat, helping to mask some of the strong flavors, but also helped to preserve the meat with antimicrobial properties. Similarly, droëwors, which also makes for great snacking, was made with vinegar and coriander and air dried. Boerewors, however, is a fresh sausage with similar seasoning, but is typically grilled or fried. At the European Deluxe Sausage Kitchen, you can find plain or made with peri peri chiles for some heat.
“Compared to European sausages, it's totally different in flavor,” says Gary, who explains that at the shop they make the biltong with brown sugar, white pepper, salt and vinegar. The cuts of biltong are also much thicker than you’d find for a typical jerky, and to make for easier eating, Gary uses a special shredder to chop up the tough meat into more bite-size pieces. Customers can also request that their order of biltong contain more fat, which makes for a chewier texture and richer flavor, or with less, making for a tougher bite that some prefer.
Those looking for an alternative to the beef biltong can usually find a turkey version hanging by the front of the shop. “We used to sell ostrich, but it got too expensive,” says Gary. “It would probably be about $80/pound because it has to be very dry to be good, which makes the price higher. One time we had antelope, but we can only use farm-raised here in the U.S. and it was not the same, it wasn't gamey enough. And the price was higher, too.”
When asked why he thinks the number of South African customers exceed those who come to buy his European cuts, Gary surmises, “A lot of South Africans are coming into the country, so there's a lot of young people. But with the Europeans, there are less because over time many of the older people pass away, and the younger ones don't buy as much as the South African families do because they're more connected to the traditions. Especially because with the Europeans, it was their parents that came over unless we have some people who come here directly from Germany to work here.”
The Troubs say that many of their South African customers shop for special occasions, or for certain holidays, but most come to just stock up on a regular basis. “Most of the time, since they come from far away, they buy a bigger amount to last them longer,” says Gary, though he adds that there doesn’t tend to be a lot of crossover shopping. “Some of the South Africans buy other things, maybe they'll buy a frankfurter or some other items from Europe like mustard, but in general they stay with things from South Africa. And we have some young people who come in and buy the South African ones and the European ones, but not in the numbers that we sell to South Africans. I'd say we have about 65-70% of our sales come from South African customers, it used to be the other way around 10 or 15 years ago.”
Gary says he’ll occasionally get requests for English bangers or certain recipes from places like France, and will do his best to fulfill the orders of those looking for a taste of home. “But I don't always have the right recipe or I can't make it because of the way they cook it, like I can't do hams or certain salami because I don't have the equipment.”
For those looking for a good way to prepare boerewors from the shop, Phina suggests the following simple recipe, “First, you fry up the boerewors with onions, garlic, fresh tomatoes and spices, and then once fried, you can put the sauce on top of it or on the side. You can also add chicken bouillon cubes, which is nice. Then you cook cornmeal to make fufu [a staple African starch also made with cassava and other flours], and you can make that medium, soft, or hard, however you like it, and then when you dish it up, you can put the tomato sauce on top of the fufu, and then put the boerewors on the side of the plate. We love to eat it with fufu.”
“I didn't think we'd be able to find boerewors way over here. It was very nice,” adds Phina, who says that she and her husband were introduced to the shop by another South African expat. “And the biltong, that's a yummy one, I love that. I keep eating it a little bit and a little bit at a time to make it last, and it reminds me of home. Being able to find my home food here is very nice.”