The artist at Smith Kebabs in Collingwood, Melbourne, has a style similar to Jackson Pollock’s. For a canvas, he uses French fries (chips!), topped with cheese and thinly sliced halal lamb and chicken. His medium is sauce: barbecue, creamy garlic and tart chile. The resulting creation, kaleidoscopic in its thickly splattered patina and creamy-crisp, meaty glory, is the halal snack pack.
Also known as H.S.P., the snack pack became a mainstay of Australian kebab and souvlaki shops, as well as other independent fast-food joints, in the last few decades. It’s almost always a takeout item, and is almost always called the halal snack pack, whether or not it is genuinely halal. You can get it topped with sliced beef, chicken or lamb, or a mix, and it is increasingly offered in various vegan preparations.
“You want all the sauces?” the person taking your order will ask. The correct answer is “Yes,” or “Yes, please, with extra chile.”
I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about and craving the snack pack in recent weeks. This strange era of social distancing will be remembered as the age of home cooking and takeout, and the usual foam plastic to-go packaging of the H.S.P. is a vital part of its identity (though an environmentally unfriendly one).
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I am looking primarily for comfort in eating these days, for unabashed deliciousness, and this dish provides it in spades. There are comparisons to be made to poutine, or chili cheese fries, and I’m not here to denigrate either of those splendid creations. But I will say that I find the H.S.P. slightly more dynamic, and slightly less tiresome two-thirds of the way in.
But beyond its obvious meaty, carby comfort, the halal snack pack has the potential to satisfy a deep need for connection in these oddly lonely weeks and months. It is, after all, a dish that came to symbolize togetherness and the rejection of bigotry.
The snack pack had its most visible moment of cultural relevance in Australia four years ago, when it played a starring role in a parliamentary drama that stretched over several months.
During his speech, Mr. Dastyari mentioned the Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society, a popular Facebook group (which then had about 90,000 members) where fans rated and praised snack packs from around the country. The group had a list of guidelines for how to approach these ratings, with points given for proper, well-displayed halal certification.
During the federal election in July of that year, the new class of politicians included the first female Muslim member of Parliament, Anne Aly, and Pauline Hanson of the One Nation party, who ran on a strong anti-Islam platform. (One Nation’s website currently calls for halting the construction of mosques and Islamic schools until an inquiry is held to determine whether Islam is “a religion or totalitarian political ideology undermining our democracy and way of life.”)
In congratulating Ms. Hanson for her win during a television broadcast, Mr. Dastyari invited her out to try a halal snack pack with him.
“Not happening. Not interested in halal, thank you.” Ms. Hanson said. In her maiden speech in the Senate, Ms. Hanson called for a ban on Muslim immigration to Australia.
Ms. Aly, for her part, began wearing a halal snack pack brooch to Parliament, telling BuzzFeed News, “I just love the H.S.P. movement. It’s the most Aussie thing that thousands of people can come together, regardless of race or religion, because of a mutual love of meat and chips.”
The snack pack’s popularity has continued, though you hear less about it as a great uniter. The original Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society no longer has a Facebook page, appearing to have fractured into various imitators and local and regional groups. But with most Australian restaurants operating as takeout-only venues, perhaps the snack pack’s time to shine is now as much as ever.
Our small business-owning brothers and sisters who make this glorious mess of a dish need our support now more than ever. Does anyone know where I can get an H.S.P. brooch?
As Mr. Dastyari said during his parliamentary speech, this is the perfect moment to celebrate “what can only be described as the great Australian tradition of meat in a box.”