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May 7, 2018 | by  | in Food Opinion |
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Halal Snack Pack

Last summer I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Sydney. One evening, rehabilitating from another 40-degree afternoon, my body still drenched in beer (no, not VB), my friends and I decided to make a trip to the kebab shop down the road. Earlier on, we had discussed the issues of the day and the surprise resignation of a promising Labor Senator called Sam Dastyari. One of the highlights of Sam’s career,  I was told, was his taunt of the racist politician and villain Pauline Hanson, by offering to treat her to a Halal Snack Pack, to celebrate her Senate seat win the day before. To this Pauline politely replied, “Not happening, not interested in halal, thank you”. Since that night, the Halal Snack Pack has come to represent something more than just a drunken gobble, — it has become a symbol of tolerance and multiculturalism in Australia. Seen in another way, the Halal Snack Pack or HSP broke ground by incorporating something distinctly Muslim into mainstream Australian pop culture.

An HSP consists of juicy kebab meat layered over a bed of hot chips, with cheese tucked between them, finished with an array of sauces on top, classically chilli, BBQ, and garlic yoghurt. This sauce combination is known as the “holy trinity”.  Some have come to see the HSP as a fusion dish, due to the inclusion of chips which represent the West. “Halal” means permissible in Arabic, and in this context denotes the meat, which comes from an animal who has been slaughtered according to rules laid out in Islamic law.

The shop is bustling, with a large outdoor seated area. The bright fluorescent lights and wide-panelled mirrored interiors struck me sharply. The mirrors reminded me of my sorry state, and I felt an acute self-consciousness of appearing disrespectful, or worse still, seeming a bad drunken Muslim in the watchful eyes of those around me. Nervous, I quickly assessed the situation. The patrons of the shop seemed young, healthy, and wholesome. Many of the men sporting Drake-esque beards; thin with clean lines. Nonchalant and convivial, it was also undoubtedly multicultural, not only with various types of Muslims; Arabs, Africans, but also other Asians and of course not forgetting white folk. A remarkably positive impression of Australia began to form in me. Already fizzing with excitement at the thought of being active in a unique cultural exercise, it was time to eat.

Boy, as I opened the un-environmental polystyrene package, I was greeted by what looked like a literal hot mess. Moments later, sauce in my beard, eyes glazing over,  I was in paradise, or jannah. It seems that what makes a good HSP is first, solid chips, then a decent proportion of quality meat on top(most people enjoy the lamb-chicken mix), melted cheese snug between these two, and lastly a good amount of sauce to keep things wet but not soggy.

Since that night,  I have done more than just pay lip service to the dish, by keeping up with HSPs through a Facebook appreciation society, which now has a large following. Here in Wellington, HSPs can be found in most kebab shops under the heading “meat on chips” or just “snackpacks”. Wondering why the “halal” was dropped or never picked up, I pressed for an answer from a kebab shop owner recently, who later reluctantly replied “we think it might scare people off”. Sigh. Interestingly, on another note, the Halal Snack Pack is a dish that isn’t necessarily Muslim either, with Christian Arabs, Turks, and Greeks having similar dishes in their canon.

Besides it being a wonderful feed late into the night (I really do think it’s right there up on the list), the HSP’s existence in pop culture is one where its inclusion is premised on multiculturalism — not assimilation.  Which is to say, if Muslims were to assimilate (into the dominant culture) there could be no “halal” in a Halal Snack Pack.

Look for “meat on chips” at your regular kebab shop.

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