The Halal Snack Pack (AKA HSP, or “Snacky”) is a modern Australian delicacy that combines the best of Middle Eastern and British cuisine in a single dish.
Typically served in a styrofoam box, it consists of a giant heap of kebab meat, a number of sauces mixed together, some hot chips, and, if your heart is up for it, some melted cheese as well.
I’m going to be reviewing the box (pictured above) I had the other day, but before we get started, I think it’s important we have a little history lesson.
In 1915, as part of an ill-fated Allied campaign aimed at opening up a second front against Germany, Australian forces invaded Turkey, storming the beaches of Gallipoli. We got our arses kicked, and were forced to retreat (for what it’s worth it was a very good retreat), but at war’s end there remained little animosity between the two sides. Both had respected the other’s tenacity, and both were aware that they’d only been fighting each other in the first place because of the whims of their side’s leading powers.
In the century that followed Gallipoli became something of a secular shrine for Australians, while in the 1960s Turkey became the first non-European nation to sign an Assisted Passage Agreement with Australia, which basically meant the Australian government – short on immigrants needed to expand the local economy – would subsidise the travel costs for foreigners to move down here.
Over the next few decades Turkish immigration to Australian exploded, and just like every other ethnic group to move to these shores, Turks left their most immediate mark on our tastebuds, introducing Australians to the joys of kebabs and, in particular, kebabs at 2AM after too many beers.
Turkish food is now as established a part of Australian diets as Chinese, Thai and Indian, but as the 21st century rolled on, something special happened. A bizarre hybrid of Turkish and traditional Australian cuisine, served quietly on menus for 30 years without much fuss, began to emerge into the country’s wider culinary consciousness. It was called the Halal Snack Pack.
Unrelated peoples, brought together from across the seas, had combined menus to create something new, something better, something magical. That’s part of the joy of the HSP: It isn’t just bloody delicious, but its origin story is in many ways the story of modern Australia itself, forging something in a new world cobbled together from parts of the old.
“I would say it’s an Australian dish,” Oktay Ali Sahin told SBS last year. “Cheese isn’t used in Turkish dishes with chips and meat. Ultimately it’s a multicultural dish, doner meat is from Turkey, Lebanon and the Middle East, and everyone eats chips.”
The construction of a HSP traditionally begins with a serving of hot chips layered at the bottom of the box. Cheese is then poured over the top (which quickly melts), followed by a generous slab of kebab meat, which is generally either chicken or lamb.
The Snacky is then topped with the “Holy Trinity”: A combination of BBQ, garlic and chilli sauce, laid on so thickly as to completely cover the rest of the dish.
There are of course variations on this: Some might alter the sauces, some places offer Tabouli on top, while other maniacs like to destroy the entire thing by adding pineapple. I’m a fan of the traditional HSP, though, so that’s what I’m reviewing here.
The first and most important thing you need to know about the HSP is that it is dense. This is, despite the name, very much not a snack. This is an undertaking, for both your stomach and your arteries.
It’s the sauce that gets you first. There’s just so much of it that gets everywhere, almost overwhelming you with the creamy garlic and the kick of the chilli.
Get past that though and the bulk of the protein/death you encounter in every HSP is the meat. I like to mix chicken and lamb not just for the taste, but for the texture: Kebab lamb is unrecognisable from actual sheep flesh, usually served in long, thin strips (almost like meat tape), while the chicken tends to be grilled and arrives in smaller, more recognisable chunks.
The lamb has this spongy, sausage-like feel to it, and the chicken tends to have the smoky taste of something that’s been spinning over a fire all day. Because HSPs tend to be big, requiring you to do a lot of eating, it’s a nice break for your tastebuds to be working their way through two types of meat instead of just one.
The chips, though, are what make a HSP. Kebab meat tends to be pretty similar across the country (and even the world), but chips/fries are not, and the Turkish takeout that skimps on its chips is undermining the bedrock of their Snacky.
Every time you take a bite, you’ll be getting the sauce and meat, yeah, but you’ll also be getting some chip, which helps keep things light and adds… I dunno, some vegetables to the ingredients? My basic point is that chips make up around 50 per cent of a HSP’s overall volume, so good chips makes for a good HSP. And my local place – which serves fresh, crinkle-cut chips with chicken seasoning – does good chips.
They’re the ballast. They’re the soft mattress cushioning the hammer blows your mouth is taking from everything else up top. On their own, hot chips are just a side dish, and on its own, a box full of just kebab meat and sauce would taste like a bag of spicy fat. They need each other to complete the HSP.
I am not going to sit here and pretend this meal is for everyone. It is very bad for you, and has a real heavy taste that won’t be to everyone’s liking. Plus, HSPs tend to be as renowned for their size as their flavour, so anyone looking for a light refreshment might want to try something smaller.
But if the idea of a portable heart attack made mostly of spice, meat and chips sounds like a good time, then the HSP is definitely for you.