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Byline: PAUL McDAID

Whether it's fresh, local, exotic, spicy or even a wild boar burger you're looking for, St George's Market in Belfast has got it all, well apart from enough seats that is

Why should the tourists get all the good food? St George's Market is on most visitors' guidebook, but thankfully the locals are also beginning to discover it's well worth a visit.

In its 115-year history, St George's has been many things. From a temporary morgue during the great Blitz of 1941 to a concert venue, so hardly surprising it has built a reputation for good food.

So much so that the great Observer Food Monthly ranked it in the top three food markets in Britain and Ireland.

So what's for starters then? There's the usual crowd-pleasing fayre of burgers and fries but it's a step up from the discs of red meat your typical greasy spoon will knock out.

El Toro Grill usually has a steady stream of hungry punters ready to take on the gut-busting, wallet-friendly wild boar burger.

The pork is extremely good, succulent and, as it's sourced from one of the many high-end butchers at St George's, it's fantastically fresh.

If for some odd reason swine isn't your thing the Golaka will provide an excellent vegetarian alternative with samosas a specialty.

Next door is the Indian Nights In with a familiar and pleasing selection of delicacies from the subcontinent although some are a little pricey.

Keeping it spicy, Hot Lips Curries might be off to the side under the clock but curry queen Jenny Kennedy is worth looking up if only for the banter.

Her dishes are low-fat recipes from slimming world clubs but her Irish stew is particularly popular with tourists - especially a group from Japan who wanted fried rice with theirs.

Keep an eye out for seasonal one-off stalls, like the spit-roast suckling pig.

The intoxicating aroma of that crackling makes a mockery of the very notion of vegetarianism.

For my money, St George's means flappingly fresh fish and there's a vast stretch of stalls packed with the bountiful treasures of the oceans.

If you can't wait until you get home, try a portion of scampi deep fried in a moreishly tasty vinegar batter.

But if I was going to recommend one stall I'd direct you to La Terreta Paella and Tapas.

Run by Fran Pitarch from Castellon, near Valencia, La Terreta serves authentic Spanish cuisine at recession-friendly prices.

An engineering graduate, Fran came to Belfast to learn English but ended up teaching us how to eat.

His staples are the seafood and meat paellas, with fresh shell fish, squid, chicken and pork from the market while the crucially important rice is especially imported from near his hometown.

The proof of its quality is the number of Spanish and Basque expats who are his regular customers.

There's also a different tapas menu each week with albondigas (meatballs), pinchos (spicy kebabs), montaditos (a Basque country delicacy of fresh baguette topped with onion, tomato, parsley and cerrano ham) and mejillones (steamed mussels in a white wine and garlic sauce). Es tremendo.

Whatever you eat at St George's, you can be sure it's not supermarket-processed. This is the place where the fishermen and farmers come with their wares, as they have done in market towns the length and breadth of Ireland for hundreds of years.

Friday morning's market is more about straight value-for-money, but on Saturday the emphasis is on gourmet.

But don't expect to eat your paella or organic burger on a linen-clothed table with fine silver cutlery.

The plastic seats are hard to get - and tables even rarer, especially around the band which plays every week in the centre of the market.

But when the food is so good - and such great value - you'll certainly find a way to eat it.

menu...

Paella for two: pounds 8

Pinchos: pounds 4

Albondigas: pounds 3

Montaditos: pounds 2

Drinks: pounds 2

TOTAL: pounds 19

ST GEORGE'S MARKET

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FOOD FOR THOUGHT Hungry shoppers at St George's Market in Belfast and, inset, Japanese tourist at the cheese counter
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 20, 2010
Words:684
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