Wire by the basket/ photo by Blake Sinclair
Wire by the basket/ photo by Blake Sinclair

This Hole-in-the-Wall Life

Lost in the midst of Orange County's Mexican, Vietnamese, Arab, Persian and Samoan hordes are our "white" immigrants—the Irish of Seal Beach, Anaheim's Romanians and Germans, and the South Africans of South County. The Springbok Club of Southern California maintains a P.O. Box in Mission Viejo, while a large contingent of South African Jews live in Irvine. The expat community is large enough that it has supported the African Hut, a store specializing in South African produce, for about a decade.

Launched in Laguna Beach, the African Hut now operates from a Laguna Niguel industrial park next to the 5 freeway. It's a tiny shop, about the size of a living room, but it stocks nearly everything a South African needs to recreate home, right down to the tubes of Ingram's Champhor Cream for skin rashes. Food products bear traces of the region's ethnic groups: Indian (pre-packaged beef samosas, chutneys and curries); Portuguese (scorching peri-peri sauces prepared by the Laguna Beach-based Mozambique Spice Company); British (Cadbury chocolates); Dutch (rusks, hardened biscuits that taste like an egg-intense biscotti and go perfectly with a morning coffee or tea); Australian (jars of the notorious yeast spread Vegemite) and even Asian (check out the lychee-flavored sodas). More familiar to the American palate are the bags of potato chips and Nestlé chocolate bars—same as ours save for the wrappers decorated with rugby, cricket and soccer heroes.

African Hut doesn't offer hot food but they've got a refrigerator and freezer with a wild assortment of snacks and easy-to-cook treats. Droëwors—long, dark sticks of dried beef bursting out of lamb casings—redeem beef jerky with their dry, slightly salty charm. Better yet are kilo-sized boerewors, spicy sausages that are the national meat of South Africa: perfect for grilling and stuffing into sandwiches or slicing for a scramble. The owners also bake cottage pie, a golden, flaky mass of beef, chutney, ketchup, dried peaches and other hearty ingredients worthy of the La Palma Chicken Pie Shop.

But I like African Hut for its vast booze supply, all of it South African. The country is famous for its wines, of course, and African Hut offers more than 80 vintages—sturdy Shirazes, flavorful whites and a bounty of Cabernets—the best is the Groot Constantia. Call ahead and find out when they hold the next wine tasting—a perfect chance to meet the immigrants few Americans complain about.



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