The Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society‘s influence is now so great it’s changing the business model of your local kebab shop. Around the country, kebab shop owners are struggling to keep up with demand for the snack pack: a box of chips topped with doner meat, cheese and sauces. Once an overlooked menu item, it’s now their best seller.
When five friends created the Facebook group in December 2015, kebabs were still king. Snack packs had been around for decades, but barely rated a mention in last year’s SBS documentary Kebab Kings, which explored the multicultural institution of the Aussie kebab shop. It went to air just days before HSPAS was formed.
The online group now has 108,000 devotees of the snack pack, and counting. Members travel to eat and review snack packs, rating shops on a range of criteria, from the greeting as they walk in the door, to the sauce on top (preferably a generous dousing in garlic, chilli and barbecue). The craze prompted a pilgrimage of thousands to King Kebab House in western Sydney’s Campbelltown in March, and Labor senator Sam Dastyari even gave a rave review of their snack pack in a speech to parliament a few days later, with dreams of bringing both sides of politics together over “the great Australian tradition of meat in a box”. A HSPAS ‘meat up’ is happening in Melbourne next weekend.
Had the cameras kept rolling, they would have captured the rise of the halal snack pack.
The snack pack that launched a hundred thousand clicks
Ufuk Bozoglu, owner of Oz Turks Jnr in Sydney’s Redfern and star of Kebab Kings, made the halal snack pack (or HSP) that inspired Luke Eagles and his mates to create the group.
“A friend and I, Ryan, were watching a band play in Redfern and popped into Oz Turk,” says Luke.
“It took a while to get served, but it was so entertaining,” he recalls. Ufuk’s greeting and banter set the mood, and his snack packs were enormous – “so big we struggled to carry them”. The idea for HSPAS was born.
Until Luke later contacted him, Ufuk didn’t realise his shop was the birthplace of HSPAS, but he’d certainly felt its impact. For every thirty snack packs he makes, Ufuk will now make just one or two kebabs.
“HSP now make up 75 per cent of our business,” says Oktay Ali Sahin of Metro One Kebab in Ashfield. His version served in a communal pizza box frequently scores a perfect 10 in the group, and is a favourite of Luke’s.
"I’ve never seen so many young people from different cultures eating together, sitting together,” he says. “Forget everything, forget politics, just come in and eat."
Everyone sharing from the same pizza box
The movement has been seen as a call for acceptance, a celebration of multiculturalism and a defiance of anti-Muslim sentiment.
“I would be lying if I said that was the intention from the beginning,” says Luke, but he’s keen to embrace it all the same. The group’s founders are a mixed bag: a Kiwi, a Bengali, and “some Aussie dingoes”. “I love it, I grew up in Regents Park which is pretty multicultural,” he says.
“Later on this developed into a halal versus anti-halal thing,” explains Oktay, “but I think it just shows how accepting and how beautiful our country is. Everyone sharing from the same pizza box.”
Mevlana Cifci of Campbelltown’s King Kebab House moved to Australia from Turkey 16 years ago, and has worked in the kebab business ever since. His shop is another crowd favourite and the Mecca of the snack pack pilgrimage.
“I’ve never seen so many young people from different cultures eating together, sitting together,” he says. “Forget everything, forget politics, just come in and eat.”
Great Australian tradition of meat in a box
Snack packs have been around as long as kebab shops in Australia according to some accounts. “We’ve been making them for a long time, definitely since my childhood 30 years ago,” says Ufuk. “They’re nothing new, they have just got really popular.”
One thing is certain: it’s not a traditional Turkish, Lebanese or Middle Eastern dish. “You wouldn’t find this in Turkey,” says Ufuk.
Oktay agrees. “I would say it’s an Australian dish. 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.”
“My friends overseas see it on Facebook, and they call me and say ‘what’s this snack pack?” says Mevlana.
“People are now asking for them overseas.” But even if you do find a HSP outside of Australia, it won’t be comparable, he says. “Australian meat is the best, and so is our kebab machine technology.”
Luke points out that an alternative name for halal snack packs, other than meat box, is the Aussie pack. (In South Australia, it's called an AB. Adelaidians claim the original 'HSP' was in fact an AB, created there in the '90s.)
Surprising then that the addition of tomato sauce in this non-traditional dish has caused much controversy within the group. Luke had to step in as the debate and endless stream of memes in recent weeks took the group’s focus away from what’s really important: halal snack packs. The official ruling on tomato sauce? “Personally, I’m not a fan,” says Luke.
If asked, Oktay will put tomato sauce on your HSP at Metro One: “as a business owner, I have to,” he laughs. But he also reserves the right to pull a face.
Pomegranate molasses is the sour element here, lending a depth and richness that you’ll not get from anything else – it’s easily sourced from Middle Eastern, and some general, supermarkets. A specialty from two regions along the Caspian Sea, Gilan and Mazandaran, this Irani dish is traditionally made from beef and served with rice. We've gone for a fresh feel by pairing goat skewers with grilled vegetables and bread.