If you’ve turned on the news this week, you’ve probably heard all about halal snack packs. Here’s where you can try one for yourself in Brisbane.

Kebabs are no longer the best seller at your local kebab shop, and it’s all due to the meteoric rise of the halal snack pack (HSP).

It’s a simple dish, to say the least — just a styrofoam box of chips topped with cheese, halal-certified kebab meat, and a “holy trinity” of garlic, chilli and barbecue sauces.

But that styrofoam box contains multitudes, and over the last seven months, the humble HSP has become a phenomenon.

The Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society is a light-hearted Facebook group dedicated to giving HSPs ratings out of 10 based on their chips, meat and sauces, as well as the seller’s greeting (a friendly “Brother” or “Sister” is a must) and signage (the more neon, the better).

The group was formed in Sydney last December, and now has almost 160,000 members from all over Australia; a simple love of cheese, chips and doner meat helping to unite a divided nation.

During a debate about halal certification in Parliament earlier this year, Labor senator Sam Dastyari offered up his own review of King Kebab House in Campbelltown.

“The greeting I got was 10 out of 10,” Dastyari told the Parliament for the record. “The signage was 10 out of 10 — it was very clear I was purchasing halal products, something I know many senators on the other side are concerned about.”

On election night, Dastyari invited incoming Senator Pauline Hanson out for a HSP to celebrate her victory (“It’s not happening, not interested in halal, thank you,” she replied).

This Monday night on Q&A, Sydney psychologist Mohammed Attai made national news when he invited Hanson out to dinner with his family to try a haram (non-halal) snack pack. Hanson told Attai to “get in touch with her office and see what happens, yeah”.

While the meal is yet to take off in Brisbane the same way it has in Sydney and Melbourne, there is one local HSP purveyor that has earned widespread praise amongst the Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society, and that’s Istanbul Eats.

Based in Salisbury, Istanbul Eats opened at the start of the year, coincidentally just in time to ride the wave of HSP love, and has quickly become a cult favourite (especially because they let you order your HSP with sweet potato chips).

I paid their neon-drenched food truck a visit on the weekend, and after sitting down on a grass stool at one of their quirky pinwheel tables, I soon realised I had stumbled across an absolute taste sensation — from the friendly greeting to the eye-opening Holy Trinity of sauces, I’d have to rate the experience a 10 across the board.

Istanbul Eats owners Frank and Rose Aplak say they aren’t surprised the HSP is catching on.

“The halal snack pack is probably one of the most simple meals you will ever eat but so filling and tantalising to the tastebuds at the same time,” Rose says.

“If you love a combination of crispy chicken-salted chips, melted cheese, a combination of garlic, BBQ and chilli sauces, and succulent meat, you must try one of these babies. We like to call it the food of the gods!”

Beyond the undeniably delicious taste, Rose says digging into a good HSP is just a fun social experience.

“A lot of kebab shops create designs with their sauces, write little messages, and so customers get excited to see what kind of HSP they’re about to receive. A lot of places that serve HSPs also have a great atmosphere.

“Particularly at Istanbul Eats, we like to make sure our music is always pumping, tables are clean, and the aroma of that meat and chips is in the air.

“Made in different sizes, from small styro containers to large pizza box sizes, you’d rarely ever want to go out and eat a snack pack on your own. A lot of our snack pack eaters come in groups and it is that social aspect of it that really captures people too. We suppose social media is also really great at creating hype, but really, snack packs have been around and been famous for a very long time.”

While it might seem to the outside observer that HSPs simply arrived out of whole cloth last December, Frank and Rose explain that the styrofoam sensation actually has a long and proud history.

“To be honest, Frank’s father was one of the first people who brought over his recipes for Doner all the way back in the ’70s, around the time the first lot of Turks arrived in Australia,” Rose says.

“He was a renowned chef in his time and worked all around Europe, cooking and teaching. At the time of his arrival in Australia, there were pretty much no Doner-serving restaurants at all, so we would say around that time is probably when they started to come about.

“The ‘halal’ side of things didn’t come about until much later, though, as it was very difficult to find halal meat back then and many were slaughtering in the backyard! Since then, the snack pack has definitely evolved, and there are a lot more essential parts to it today than ever before — from simply being just chips on one side, meat on the other, in one of those red and yellow hot chips boxes, to the chips then moving under and the meat on top in a styro, to the now-common chips, cheese, meat, more cheese and sauce in styro.”

HSP

Image: Annabel Taylor

Of course, if you want to make a great HSP, there are rules. For starters, you’ll want to keep that traditional kebab shop salad far away from the HSP.

“The halal snack pack is known to capture you with its crispy chips and succulent meat, so when you add the salad, it really takes it away from that,” Rose explains. “We cannot say that it would not taste amazing with salad, but it just wouldn’t be considered a ‘halal snack pack’ as such.”

When you order your HSP, you’ll be offered a range of sauces — but the only correct answer is the Holy Trinity.

“In our opinion, the Holy Trinity is what makes the HSP so damn good,” Rose says. “The combination of herb (the garlic), sweetness (the BBQ) and spiciness (the chilli) hitting three tongue zones at once really makes those tastebuds go wild!

“Honestly, trying the Holy Trinity just really makes you want to go back for more and you’ll never divert to any other sauce again.”

It’s not that you can’t order a HSP with tomato sauce — it’s just that you’ll really be missing out if you do.

“Look, we get it, we all come from different walks of life, but a HSP is not a HSP without the Holy Trinity,” Rose says.

“It’s fine to have it with the tomato sauce but you’d need another name for that one — we believe that would be the DSP (Dingo Snack Pack).”

A friendly greeting is also a must.

“Customer service is essential in every business,” Rose says. “It doesn’t matter how great your food was — if the person that served you was a sourpuss, you’ll reconsider ever going back to that same place. We train our staff to the best of our ability to always treat our customers well and make them feel welcome.

“We have an array of personalities, so while you might get the big, loud ‘Hi, BRO, what can I get for you today?’ from Frank, you’ll get the softspoken ‘How are you today, sir, what can I get for you today?’ from Arka. No matter how busy we may get sometimes, we always aim to give that quality time to our customer when they first make their order, even if it’s just by asking how their day has been.

“Frank is also known for going around giving tea to everyone, and sometimes even sitting down for a friendly chat when he gets the opportunity.”

Neon signage isn’t strictly compulsory, but it doesn’t hurt.

“Neons are not essential to all businesses for a good HSP experience, but being a food truck, we’ve chosen to go for a more funky theme. We wanted to make things different from the standard fairy lights or flashing yellow lights that you’d find on a lot of other food trucks or at kebab shops. Our neons and vibrance of colour in the atmosphere is the final touch of the ultimate Istanbul Eats HSP experience.”

Of course, the most important thing is that the HSP tastes amazing.

“It starts off with the quality of our food and ends with our customer service,” Rose says.

“We are personally big foodies ourselves and we have an objective to serve people food that we would eat. We always select our produce carefully and always try to buy locally, we create the mix of our meats ourselves and always ensure everything we serve is fresh!

“We also like to create a point of difference in our menu to really achieve that funky theme we mentioned earlier. Whilst at the standard kebab shop you’ll find Turkish delight and baklava, you’ll find churros with us. Whilst you’ll find Coke at the standard shop, you’ll find Cherry Coke with us. Whilst you’ll find the standard potato chip at other kebab shops, you’ll find sweet potato with us. And these are just a few of the many things that make us different.”

You’ll find Istanbul Eats at 655 Toohey Road, Salisbury.

Where’s your favourite HSP in Brisbane? Let us know in the comments below!