Traveling With A Vietnamese Bush Tucker Man


My travel entourage includes Vietnam’s answer to The Bush Tucker Man, the Australian soldier-turned-TV star who fronted a bush food show in the 80s and 90s.

Major Les Hiddins, the original Bush Tucker Man, wore a big hat and drove a big truck on his show. The Bush Tucker Man traveled around Australia finding and eating native bush food such as berries and witchetty grubs. (Tucker is Australian slang for food, the bush is our word for unsettled scrub-covered areas, hence bush tucker.)

So, as an Australian, I’m familiar with the concept of eating local plants. But, as an Australian, I have had it drummed into me that many many plants are poisonous — lethally poisonous, falling-down-frothing-at-the-mouth-until-you-die poisonous. Bush food is for survival purposes only, for when you’re stranded by raging floodwaters or have just clambered out of the wreckage of a plane somewhere in the outback. In which case, finding water is the priority anyway.

You don’t wade into the weeds on the side of the road and start eating things. Not in Australia, anyway.

But Darling Man comes from a continent with less lethal plants. The Vietnamese people have also endured years of grinding poverty, where anything edible was sustenance. And so there are many things that I consider a weed that Darling Man considers food.

When we go for a walk, I’ll often find myself suddenly walking alone, talking to myself, with Darling Man some way behind me, standing in the shrubbery having a snack.

Harvesting roadside weeds is relatively common in Vietnam. On our arduous journey to find Con Dao Island’s best restaurant, we passed several families picking plants for their dinner on the side of the road. (This is probably much less common now than it was during and immediately after the war, when most people were starving.)

Darling Man also surveys the local vegetation because he’s looking for remedies for the terrible eczema he developed on his fingers when we lived in Singapore.

In the garden of our serviced apartment complex in Chiang Mai, Darling Man discovered some gotu cola. During our stay at the apartment, small balls of dried plant material piled up under his desk, debris from his homemade herbal poultices. He also found another plant in the garden that is supposed to be good for the skin. He plans to sneak back to the apartment complex soon to take a cutting of the plant that we have yet to find an English name for.

And then there’s the comfrey he imported in our luggage, which he planted in Miss M’s potty. Needless to say, our potty training was on hold until the comfrey finally died.

Even when we are at restaurants, he’s on the lookout for “free” food.

It’s an endearing trait and I am really looking forward to helping him searching for “free” bush tucker in France and Holland later this year.

We plan to do a lot of cycling, so it will be easy to scan the sides of the road for the European herbs and vegetables that I am familiar with from growing up in Australia, like the wild rosemary and thyme mentioned here in this blog post about cooking with Provence’s wild herbs.

Our Europe trip will be a super low-budget tour, so we will be cycling and camping and cooking our own food. Gathering “free” herbs for dinner is going to be so much fun!

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8 years ago

By: Barbara

A career girl who dropped out, traveled, found love, and never got around to going home again. Now wrangling a cross-cultural relationship and two third culture kids.

18 Comments

  1. Sophie says:

    I’m afraid I wouldn’t know what to look for among all the plants and shrubs along the road. Mushrooms are a bit easier. And berries. Have fun foraging!
    Sophie recently posted..Where in the World

    • Barbara says:

      Ah, foraging! I knew there was an elegant word for it.
      I’d actually be scared to pick mushrooms. I’ve seen too many TV shows featuring deathcap mushrooms!

  2. My mother-in-law is also a clandestine harvester, but she purloins plant cuttings to relocate to her garden πŸ™‚

    When will you be in France and Holland? We’ll be there from the beginning of May until the end of June, starting in Paris and ending up at a rented house near Amsterdam.

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, Darling Man, purloins plant cuttings as well. He managed to introduce some terrible virus to my mother’s vegetable garden with a “harvested” strawberry runner.

      We should be in Provence in May and Delft, near The Hague, in June. We are still planning things. I’ll let you know!

  3. Looks like fun as long as you know what to get! =) I’ve seen many of the gypsies here in Turkey foraging in the parks and near the forest for wild greens.

  4. I love your description of eating unknown plants in Australia and the consequences. I picture it to be more something from “Into the Wild.” πŸ™‚
    DTravelsRound recently posted..Escape of the Week: Volcanoes National Park, Rwanda

  5. love that he forages for goodness!
    wandering educators recently posted..How Study Abroad Changed my Career Path

  6. Cool experience! I recently read Bill Bryson’s book about Australia, so I now understand what you mean about not just wandering off the side of the road and eating plants πŸ™‚
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..Foto of the Week from … El Calafate – Lake Sunset

    • Barbara says:

      No, don’t eat the plants in Australia unless someone VERY experienced with bush tucker hands you something and says it’s safe. And wear shoes. And don’t touch shells, starfish or octopus. It’s all second nature to me and so I sometimes think the rest of the world is as lethal as Australia.

  7. robin says:

    I suppose you could also call it grazing. Unorthodox but potentially useful!
    robin recently posted..El Portatil

  8. Laurel says:

    What a useful but unexpected skill. I once tried to make dandelion tea , but it didn’t turn out, or maybe it’s supposed to taste terrible, either way that was the end of my foraging efforts.
    Laurel recently posted..My Best of Travel 2011

    • Barbara says:

      Oh, I tried to make chamomile tea once and it didn’t taste very good… then I spotted the spider in my tea. Blerch. I’ve gone off it entirely now.

      I’m really looking forward to foraging in Europe. It sounds so romantic!

  9. I love roadside food! And curbside, and picnic tableside… πŸ™‚
    Raymond @ Man On The Lam recently posted..It’s More Fun in The Philippines

  10. That would be a fun experience to go picking up foods/berries on the roadside. Like many others, I’m also afraid of trying that because basically, I don’t know which of those are the edible ones. Good thing you have Darling Man with you. Happy Trip!

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