Gawai Festival Food: A Celebration of Bornean Cuisine

Discover the vibrant and delicious cuisine of Sarawak’s Gawai Festival Food. From spicy soups to sweet desserts, immerse yourself in a celebration of flavors. This festival is celebrated by the Dayak community, which comprises various ethnic groups such as Iban, Bidayuh, and Orang Ulu. The festival is celebrated on 1st and 2nd June every year and is a time for thanksgiving, cultural rituals, and feasting.

Food is an essential part of the Gawai Festival, and traditional dishes are prepared using local ingredients and cooking methods. In this article, we will explore the delectable delights of Gawai Festival food and discover the rich culinary heritage of Sarawak.

The Gawai Festival, also known as the Harvest Festival, is a popular celebration in Borneo that is held annually in May or June. It is a time when the indigenous people of Sarawak and Sabah, Malaysia come together to celebrate the bountiful harvest season and give thanks to the spirits of their ancestors. As with any celebration, food plays a crucial role in the festivities. In this article, we’ll explore the delicious and unique cuisine of the Gawai Festival and how it reflects the cultural heritage of Borneo.

The Gawai Festival is a time of feasting, where friends and family gather to share traditional dishes and celebrate the season’s harvest. The cuisine of the festival is characterized by its simplicity, use of fresh ingredients, and cultural significance. The food is often cooked over an open flame, adding a smoky flavor that is distinct to the region.

The Significance of Food in Gawai Festival

Food plays a vital role in the Gawai Festival as it represents the bountiful harvest and is a symbol of abundance and prosperity. The traditional dishes are prepared using local ingredients such as rice, bamboo shoots, and jungle herbs. These ingredients are a reflection of the Dayak community’s reliance on the land and the forest for their livelihood.

The preparation of food is also a cultural ritual in the Gawai Festival. The community gathers to cook and feast together, emphasizing the importance of community and togetherness.

Traditional Gawai Festival Food Dishes

The traditional dishes of the Gawai Festival are a testament to the Dayak community’s culinary skills and cultural heritage. Let’s explore some of the must-try dishes during the Gawai Festival:

Traditional Rice-Based Delicacies

Lemang Burger- Gawai Festival Food

Lemang is a traditional food from Malaysia and Indonesia. It is made from glutinous rice that has been soaked in water for several hours and then mixed with coconut milk and salt before being cooked in a hollowed bamboo stick over an open fire.

The cooking process for lemang can take several hours, with the bamboo stick being rotated over the fire to ensure the rice is cooked evenly. Once the lemang is cooked, it is removed from the bamboo stick and cut into slices before being served.

Lemang is often eaten as part of a meal with other dishes such as rendang, satay, and curry. It is especially popular during festive occasions such as Hari Raya (Eid al-Fitr) and is considered a staple food in many parts of Malaysia and Indonesia.


Tuak – Gawai Festival Food

Traditional Southeast Asian alcoholic beverages like tuak are made from fermented or glutinous rice. They can be found throughout Southeast Asia, especially in Indonesia, Malaysia, and Brunei.

Cooking rice and mixing it with yeast to initiate fermentation is the standard method of making tuak. After a few days, the mixture is strained and consumed as a beverage. Tuak’s alcohol content varies widely between 5% and 15%.

People often enjoy tuak during weddings, funerals, harvest festivals, other cultural and religious gatherings, and social gatherings.

The key to enjoying tuak safely in moderation. Excessive consumption can cause liver damage and addiction.

Nasi Dagang – Gawai Festival Food

Nasi Dagang is a traditional Malaysian dish from the east coast, Terengganu and Kelantan. It is prepared with glutinous rice, fish curry, pickled vegetables, and hard-boiled eggs.
Coconut milk and fenugreek seeds give the rice its distinctive flavor and aroma. Fish curry is made with spices and coconut milk and can be made with tuna, mackerel, or even prawns.
The popular Malaysian breakfast dish Nasi Dagang is sold by street vendors or in small roadside stalls. It is also served at weddings and on other special occasions.

Linut – Gawai Festival Food

Linut, or linutik, is a traditional dish from the southern Philippines. It is made with grated cassava, coconut milk, sugar, and sometimes pandan leaves or vanilla extract.

When making linut, coconut milk, and sugar are mixed with grated cassava. The cassava is cooked over medium heat, stirring continuously until the mixture thickens and the cassava is fully cooked. Added glutinous rice flour or tapioca starch can thick

Linut is cooked, transferred to a serving dish, and cooled before serving. It is usually topped with latik, a sweet coconut cream sauce made by cooking coconut cream until it thickens and forms golden brown caramel pieces.

Linut is a popular dessert or snack in the southern Philippines. It is often eaten as a midday snack or as a special occasion dessert at weddings, birthdays, and religious celebrations.

Spicy Meat Dishes – Gawai Festival Food

Ayam Pansoh Pizza – Gawai Festival Food

Ayam pansoh is a traditional dish from Sarawak, Malaysia, made by cooking chicken in bamboo with herbs and spices. It is stuffed with chicken pieces, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, shallots, salt, and pepper, then sealed over an open flame with tapioca leaves.

By cooking slowly and gently, the chicken absorbs the flavors and aromas of the herbs and spices and the unique aroma and moisture of bamboo. After cooking, the bamboo is cut open, and the chicken is served along with its juices.

Traditionally served at weddings and cultural festivals, ayam pansoh represents not only the Sarawak people’s cultural heritage but also their cherished cultural heritage.


Manok Pansoh – Gawai Festival Food

A traditional dish from Sarawak’s indigenous communities, Manok Pansoh, is prepared by stuffing a whole chicken with herbs and spices, such as lemongrass, ginger, garlic, and chili. It is cooked on an open flame. To keep the chicken moist and flavorful, banana leaves are often wrapped around it.

Cooked over an open fire, a bamboo tube is placed over the chicken and sealed with mud. Chicken is slowly cooked for several hours until tender and flavorful.

The dish is often served as part of a larger meal alongside other traditional dishes such as rice, vegetables, and seafood. It is considered a delicacy in Sarawak.

It is not only delicious but also medicinal. The herbs and spices used in Manok Pansoh improve digestion and boost immunity.

Bubur Pedas – Gawai Festival Food

A traditional Indonesian dish called bubur pedas consists of rice, spices, and meat or fish. It is typically spiced with turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, chili peppers, and shrimp paste. Bubur Pedas is typically served hot and prepared separately from the porridge and spice mixture in a typical Indonesian breakfast or lunch dish. Meat or fish is usually cooked separately and added to the porridge and spice mixture. A spicy and savory dish, it is often topped with fried onions, boiled eggs, or crackers.

Belacan – Gawai Festival Food

There are several types of belacan. Belacan is used in Southeast Asian cuisine, particularly in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Southern Thailand. It is prepared from fermented shrimp, mixed with salt, then shaped into sun-dried blocks.

The belacan ingredient is an essential component of many Southeast Asian dishes, such as sambal belacan (a spicy chili paste), laksa (a spicy noodle soup), and rojak (a fruit and vegetable salad).

Belacan is usually toasted in a dry pan or wrapped in foil, grilled until fragrant, and then added to a dish. It should be used in small quantities since its intense flavor can overpower other ingredients.

Wild Boar Curry – Gawai Festival Food

Wild Boar Curry is a flavorful and spicy curry made with tender cuts of wild boar meat, vegetables, and a variety of aromatic spices, which is popular worldwide, especially in Asia and Europe.


  • 1 pound of wild boar meat, cut into small pieces
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon of ginger paste
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 green chilies, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon of coriander powder
  • 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon of red chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon of garam masala
  • 1/2 cup of coconut milk
  • Salt to taste
  • Oil for cooking
  • Fresh coriander leaves, chopped (for garnishing)


  • Using a large skillet or wok, heat oil over medium-high heat. Throw in the cumin seeds and fry until they splutter.
  • The onions should be fried until golden brown. Use minced garlic and ginger paste to finish cooking.
  • At this point, chop tomatoes, green chilies, coriander powder, turmeric powder, and red chili powder should be added. Let it simmer for a few minutes until the tomatoes are soft.
  • Wild boar meat should be added to the skillet and stirred well. Cook for 10-15 minutes until all sides are browned.
  • Coconut milk and garam masala should be added to the skillet and stirred. Cover the skillet and simmer for thirty to forty minutes until the meat is tender and the gravy thickens.
  • Serve hot with rice or bread and season with salt to taste. Garnish with chopped fresh coriander leaves.

Sweet Treats and Desserts

Kuih Lapis = Gawai Festival Food

There’s a traditional Malaysian dessert called Kuih Lapis, popular in Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia and Singapore. It’s made of rice flour, coconut milk, sugar, and food coloring and is served on special occasions.

The cake batter is divided into a few portions and dyed green, pink, or yellow before baking. Each layer is steamed before adding another layer until it’s done. It has a slightly sticky texture and a sweet coconut flavor and is visually appealing.

Originally from Malaysia and Southeast Asia, Kuih Lapis is usually served as a dessert or snack. You can find it in markets, food stalls, and restaurants.

Kuih Jala – Gawai Festival Food

Kuih Jala is a traditional snack or dessert popular in Malaysia and Indonesia. In some parts of the country, it is called “Kuih Loyang” or “Kuih Ros.”.

It is made by mixing rice flour, coconut milk, and sugar to make a batter that is then poured into a mold resembling a spider web and deep-fried until golden brown, resulting in a crisp and delicate texture similar to that of lace or intricate network.

A popular snack during festive occasions like Eid al-Fitr and weddings, as well as tea time or as an after-dinner dessert, kuih jala is usually served with sugar sprinkles or syrup.

It is often considered a symbol of cultural identity and heritage in Southeast Asia since Kuih Jala is an original and delicious snack.

Unique Flavors of Gawai Festival Food

Gawai Festival food cuisine is known for its unique and bold flavors. Using fresh ingredients such as wild ferns, tapioca leaves, and bamboo shoots adds a distinct taste to the dishes. Local spices such as turmeric, ginger, and lemongrass give food a subtle and aromatic flavor.

Gawai Festival Desserts

Every festival has desserts, and the Gawai Festival is no exception. One of the most popular desserts is the kuih jala, a sweet and crispy pastry made with rice flour and coconut milk. Another popular dessert is bubur pulut hitam, a sweet porridge made with black glutinous rice, coconut milk, and palm sugar.

Where to Find Gawai Festival Food

If you’re looking to try the Gawai Festival cuisine, there are several restaurants and street vendors in Borneo that offer traditional dishes. One such place is the Food Bazaar in Kuching, Sarawak, which offers a wide range of Gawai Festival specialties.


The Gawai Festival celebrates the Iban community’s culture and traditions, and food is essential to this celebration. The dishes served during the festival reflect the community’s connection to the land, cultural identity, and sense of community. From savory bamboo rice to sweet kuih jala, the traditional delicacies served during the festival témoign to the Iban’s rich culinary heritage. If you attend the Gawai Festival, indulge in delicious food and experience traditional Iban cuisine.


Q No 1: What is the Gawai Festival Food?

Gawai Festival is a cultural celebration in Sarawak, a Malaysian state located on Borneo. It marks the end of the rice harvesting season and the beginning of a new year, as per the traditional Luna Bawang and Dayak calendars.

Q No 2: What are some popular rice-based delicacies during the Gawai Festival food?

Some popular rice-based delicacies during the Gawai Festival include Lemang, Nasi Pulut, and Ketupat.

Q No 3: What are some popular spicy meat dishes during the Gawai Festival food?

Some popular spicy meat dishes during the Gawai Festival include Ayam Pansuh, Manok Pansoh, and Beef Rendang.

Q No 4: What are some popular sweet treats and desserts during the Gawai Festival?

Some popular sweet treats and desserts during Gawai Festival include Kuih Jala, Kuih Lapis, and Bubur Pedas.

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