Dam Bui has never found the perfect pho in any Adelaide venue – but she makes a damn good one at home in West Croydon.

Bui’s home kitchen is her happy place. She fought hard to build a life in Australia after arriving from Vietnam in 1988 as a political refugee.

Bui is one of a handful of migrants who will share their stories during Tasting Australia’s Tasting the World in Charles Sturt workshops. Each migrant lives in Adelaide’s western suburbs, and they will cook treasured family recipes while recounting their journeys from Uganda, Vietnam, Italy and South India respectively. Bui’s story is sobering: her fifth attempt to leave Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon landed her in prison for 16 months.

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“I was 33 when I went to prison, and I was 35 when I was released,” Bui tells Broadsheet. It was very hard labour; you can’t imagine how much I had to suffer. They treated us as the enemy for going against the government. There was no tolerance for that at the time.”

Before serving her prison sentence, Bui was a civil servant. After prison, she worked gruelling hours as a manicurist at local markets. Every dollar she earned went to supporting her parents and brothers. She successfully escaped Vietnam alone at the age of 37.

“After four days at sea, the boat I was on was invaded by pirates holding hammers, pliers and knives,” she says. “It happened many times. We were lucky to escape alive. People on other boats were raped or thrown overboard.”

Large storms ravaged the small boat carrying 44 terrified people. “It was a boat designed for the river, not the ocean,” Bui says. “After the storm we had no food or water. I can’t remember how many times the engine stopped. We thought we were going to die.”

All hope seemed lost until the wind blew them toward an American oil rig in Malaysian waters. Bui, who was the only one who could speak any English, managed to convince the oil rig captain of their plight. The passengers ended up in Pulau Bidong Refugee Camp on the Malaysian island of Bidong. Bui remained there for six months until she was interviewed by Australian officials and subsequently issued a visa.

“That was 1988 and I’ve been here since.”

She arrived with nothing but memories and a few treasured recipes passed down by her ba (grandmother).

“When I arrived, all I could think about was working to get money to help support my family back in Vietnam. They didn’t even have rice to eat. They’d eat food meant for horses.”

Now a grandmother herself, Bui treasures time in the kitchen preparing recipes passed down by her ba. During the Tasting Australia workshop she will prepare banh cuon, a northern Vietnamese dish. “It is a fresh thin rice sheet filled with a delicious meat filling accompanied by a punchy fish sauce, garnished with fresh herbs and crispy shallots,” Bui says. “It’s cooked for special occasions and it’s a favourite dish for Vietnamese families.”

“My mother said we always had to cook traditional food because we’ll lose it if we don’t. Cooking is a way to keep our culture alive. Australia is such a multicultural country and this is a good chance to show everyone my culture. There’s so much more to Vietnam than our history of war.”

Tasting Australia’s Tasting the World in Charles Sturt kicks off with Vietnamese Banh Cuon with Dam Bui and South Indian Appam presented by the Adelaide Tamil Association on Saturday May 4. It continues on Saturday May 11 with Ugandan family recipes presented by Brenda Noweka and friends from the Uganda Community of South Australia, and Italian Gnocchi presented by Nonna’s Cucina. Head here for tickets.