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Lettuce drawing
Vegetables at sunrise

Huaihe Street in the north-east part of Harbin, China, wakes up at three o'clock each morning. At three o'clock, way ahead of the rising sun, the wide thoroughfare paved with a hard asphalt welcomes a new day with the hustling and bustling of sounds and dialects of farmers who gather here to offer their vegetables and fruits and fish and meat to the dwellers who come from buildings as far as 10 blocks away in each direction.

Everything is there in this hour of a coming day. The aroma of fresh steaming buns, of the burning oil, and sweet boiled corn, of the smoke from passing cars and trucks and the blue tricycles that fill the air with their tuk and tak and tuk sound, the breakfast bread dipped in a black recycled vegetable oil, the bad breath of old village women who lost their teeth ages ago, the soap of a makeshift street barber, and the blocks of coal in winter.

Roma romatoes drawing
Jerusalem artichokes drawing
All these smells, each with its own fragrance and colour, are an inseparable part of the thousand and one varieties of vegetables that come here in the dark of night to exchange hands with city dwellers. A mixture of smells and exotic aromas, and flavour, tastes, and something else that adds to the celebration. Here an old woman holds an ancient scale, a weighing dish that is hanging on ropes, trying to fit a large number of long purple eggplants onto it. "Seven kilos", she screams, "Only eleven kuai".

Huaihe Street is a long road that has a place for every vegetable imagined. Red and green peppers, sweet or spicy along with the capsicums. Orange carrots, small unwashed or large that can feed cows. Dark purple or faded green eggplants, long ones or those that look like small balls. Blood red tomatoes, very small with a sugar taste, larger ones that carry a short pointed tail, and big round ones, beefsteak and roma and Israeli moneymakers for salad bowls. And greens of many kinds, Jerusalem artichokes and Brussels sprouts and broccoli next to long celery and celeriac, which looks like an asymmetrically shaped turnip. And cucumbers, long and thorny, and small ones, fat like a baby's buttocks, those that are pickled and those that are not. And varieties of lettuce of the daisy family for salads, soups, sandwiches and wraps; iceberg or crisphead, and hairy leaf and Romaine lettuce and Woju - asparagus lettuce, and looseleaf, and butterhead, also known as Boston or Bibb lettuce, and stem and the popular celtuce.

Asparagus drawingBeetroot drawing
There are long royal and short asparagus, and this dark-skinned man's spread presents a fete of cabbages; long white cabbages next to faded, short green ones and on the side a bunch of red cabbages for the gala. And there are onions; red, purple and white, along with plump garlic, and bitter melons and acrid cumbers, and Sichuan herbs and tiny, hot, spicy Hunan green peppers. And beetroots of many shapes and colours; table beets, and garden beets, and red or golden beets.

On a side corner a village girl orchestrates hundreds of different mushrooms. They all lie on a torn blanket shining with their white, brown and black spectrums. Agaricus bisporus, the most popular, the southern Polyporaceae, the noodle mushroom for salads and soups, and black and white fungus; some like flowers and many like brownish sponges. A smoking farmer, wrapped in a Mao faded blue overcoat, guards his produce on a second line of blankets. His teeth are brown-yellow and some are missing. He looks at his offerings with half-closed eyes as he spits remnants of tobacco onto the traffic lane. He is the master of tofu, a bean curd that comes in different forms; long transparent noodles, custard blocks, wide sheets to wrap vegetables and salty sauce with, or stinky, smelly gravy to spread on a soft milky-white block.

Mushrooms drawing part   Brussels sprouts drawing
And to add to the morning dance there are beans, white and red and black and green and faded grey, long, and round, and flat or plump. And assorted kales and kalettes, and cauliflowers, full or with spreading flowers, and red or green or white radishes. And potatoes, brown and red, sweet and vined. And there are okras, full and chubby. And tonnes of assorted peas, and spinach plants with roots and everything else, as well as swedes and majestic zucchinis. And then, to top this morning's festivities with the cream of the crops here are the leaves, in all varieties and colours, to add an extra zest to the soups, and the meats, and the salads, and the eggs, and steamy corn breads that are destined to glorify any table with jubilation of the day.

At that hour a new world is born, and Huaihe Street turns into concert of smells, waiting dishes, and the freshness of dreamed casseroles, a singing chorus of aromas that can be found only here, at the morning street markets of the Middle Kingdom.

Peas drawing

Okra drawing
Celeriac drawing

Dan Ben-Canaan
Harbin and Hainan, China