How a Fast Food Staple Became a Symbol of Diversity in Australia
All photos by the author.

How a Fast Food Staple Became a Symbol of Diversity in Australia

At a time when Australia’s Muslim population is in the crosshairs of a resurgent far-right movement, the East-meets-West creation known as the halal snack pack has become a defiant icon of the country’s cultural and ethnic diversity.
September 9, 2016, 3:00pmUpdated on September 9, 2016, 12:53pm

For decades, the halal snack pack—a fast food fusion of doner kebab meat, chips, cheese, and any number of sauces—has answered the booze-fueled cravings of the Australian masses.

If that weren't achievement enough, the uniquely Australian fast food, which traces its origins to Turkish immigration that began in the late 1960s, has recently found a higher purpose.

At a time when Australia's Muslim population is in the crosshairs of a resurgent far-right movement, the East-meets-West creation has become a defiant symbol of the country's cultural and ethnic diversity.

Outside CBD Kebabs in Melbourne. All photos by the author.

In national elections in July, Pauline Hanson and her anti-Islam, anti-immigration One Nation Party burst back into the mainstream after two decades in the political wilderness. From no national representation at all, the far-right party won four seats in the influential Senate.

Hanson, a former fish and chip shop owner from Queensland, has called for a ban on Muslim immigration and a Royal Commission into whether Islam is really a religion, rather than an ideology. And like many others in her ideological fold, she sees halal foods, which are prepared in accordance with Islamic doctrine, as a threat to the Australian way of life.

Enter the Muslim-friendly diet-buster, which has spawned an entire subculture whose members delight in mocking Hanson's inward-looking nationalism almost as much as they enjoy scoffing piles of meat, chips, cheese, and sauce.

The Halal Snack Pack Appreciation Society Facebook page, which boasts 170,000 members, is a hive of satire, as well as a forum for sorting out which snack packs are "halal" or "haram" (read: tasty or no good).

"Kebab shop on every corner if Hanson goes next election? I could get behind that," one enthusiast wrote recently, echoing a Donald Trump supporter's warning of the US being overrun by taco trucks if he lost the presidential election.

Tahmid Nurullah, one of the founders of the page, says the halal snack pack (a.k.a. HSP) has come to represent tolerance and pluralism in Australia, where more than a quarter of the population are immigrants, at a time when those values are under attack.

The halal snack pack is a fast food fusion of doner kebab meat, chips, cheese, and any number of sauces.

"I think from our standpoint and as as well as from the standpoint of people who are in the group, the reason why the term itself 'halal snack pack' resonates with people is because it's just a very easily digestible way of us being able to show we are in solidarity with the cultural practices of Muslim-Australians as well as Turkish and or Middle Eastern small business owners, who have done a lot for this country," the 24-year-old told MUNCHIES.

Luke Eagles, a fellow snack pack fanatic and co-founder of the page, similarly doesn't shy away from the message behind all the food worship.

"It was just cool to see everyone come together and make fun of the same kind of bullshit that there's never been a place for you to do it before," he said.

Some of the crew at CBD Kebabs.

The fast food favorite has gained a particularly political edge thanks to Sam Dastyari, a senator with the center-left Labor Party. Something of an official ambassador for the fast food, the Iranian-born politician has used his platform enthusiastically to review and recommend kebab shops in his Sydney locale.

Tongue firmly planted in cheek, Dastyari famously congratulated Hanson on her election win live on air by inviting her out for a snack pack in his neighborhood.

"Not happening. Not interested in halal, thank you," Hanson curtly replied, clearly not amused. "Not interested in it."

Since then, several restaurants have taken inspiration from Hanson's anxieties to introduce their own riffs on the go-to snack for night revelers.

"Starts today. Finishes on a Royal Commission," quipped a Melbourne restaurant on social media after announcing a dish dubbed "The Pauline Hanson."

A fundraising effort has even been launched by an anti-racism group in Melbourne to deliver snack packs to Hanson's office while she is in Parliament. Vowing that "if Hanson will not go to the HSP, the HSP must go to Hanson," the group has already raised about $450 for its unconventional cause.

All this attention is, of course, very good news for the kebab shop business in Australia.

At CBD Kebabs, a popular spot in central Melbourne, Gulfam Zahid says they sell more snack packs these days than anything else.

If people are brought together in the process, he thinks that can only be a good thing.

"I think it's a good symbol," said Zahid, who immigrated from Pakistan two years ago. "People can understand each other's culture, values."

"We live in a multicultural society," he added. "We should respect each other."