Common Market; Dunbar Link, Belfast. www.commonmarketbelfast.com
Street food artists of Belfast have taken shelter in a former fruit and veg warehouse to create a kind of rebel alliance where they can collectively and safely ply their dirty wares. Common Market, as it is known, is a profoundly sinful hellhole of filth, excess, greed and hedonism. You’re going to love it.
The dog-friendly food court which has filled the vacated Arnotts fruit and vegetable warehouse on Dunbar Link with benches and tables is home to eight food stalls and two bars. There are burgers, pizzas, baos and tacos, Canadian poutine, Korean chicken, Polish bangers and ice cream from Moon.
It took me three days to get round to every stall.
This is the thing about Common Market. You agonise over which food you want so the only solution is to try them all.
The first stall in the row is BAPS, the smash burger outlet brought to you by the McQuillan brothers known for Freight on the Lower Newtownards Road. The patties are smashed down to be thinner and broader than your normal puck, packed with flavour and as easy to eat as a ham sandwich. None of the stacked tower stuff here. Their parma fries will soon be legendary.
Beside BAPS is Bao Bar by Yugo. Exceptional bao buns with pork belly have all the power of their cousins in the main Yugo restaurant, the pork sticky and salty-sweet and made lighter by the accompanying raw slaw. But it’s the crispy pork dumplings which stand out and are not to be missed.
Keep walking and you come to Hey Chick, possibly the filthiest of the dirty food purveyors in the building.
Chicken burgers are vast, encased in brittle, crunchy batter served in a quality brioche bun. The waffle fries come blanket bombed by chopped gherkins, bacon bits and waves of mayo and hot sauce. Surprisingly, the vegan burger is the possibly the best thing on the menu.
Al Pastor next door takes you to Mexico with chef Oisin Montgomery formerly of the Holywood parish where he did amazing things in Shelby’s and later in a pop up.
His tacos are substantial and carefully put together and have all that warm smoky corn flavour, quality pork, salsa and grilled strips of pineapple. As with the other stalls, time is taken to prepare the food. There’s nothing very fast about any of it. You’re given little buzzer alarms to let you know when your order is ready.
You wonder how the old faithful pizza would manage among the in-yer-face street food outlets but do not go past Rebel Dough’s vast foot-long slices of margarita, pepperoni, nduja or marinara. They make the 1m pizza in a rectangular shape (£35 for the whole thing) and you’ll struggle to find a thinner, Romana-style pizza as good in Belfast. What’s more, Rebel Dough’s tomato sauce is just sweet and sour enough, with enough tang and body to match the warmth and depth of the mozzarella.
Then there’s the Polish guy with his hotdogs. The Germans dominated my sausage world with their wursts until I tried Ball & Roll’s Polish smoked sausage.
The tight skin has been scored so the explosive threat of biting into it is diminished and reveals a beautifully chunky and coarse meaty interior. Served on a long brioche roll with gherkins, lettuce, bacon bits and mustard, the classic dog will feed two.
Oui Poutine is here too with its authentic Canadian high-carb dish of pimped chips. As good as the best I had in Montreal.
And just when I thought it was time for the adviser to load me into a wheelbarrow and take me home, Moon Gelato beckoned with its selection of carrot cake and orange, chocolate, pistachio, strawberry and prosecco, fior di latte ice creams and moon dust toppings.
Common Market is the opposite of fine dining. And what a joy it is.