Borneo Cultural Festival 2014

borneo cultural festival

The Borneo Cultural Festival is back! BCF 2014 is the latest iteration of this Sibu festival celebrating local Dayak/Iban and other native cultures. It’s our version of Kuching Festival and there’s a similar emphasis on food! The last time I went was when I was working here, during Borneo Cultural Festival 2008.


I went with my dad for the last two days and the layout is similar, with sections for Dayak cuisine, Malay cooking and Chinese food. I first wrote about Borneo Cultural Festival in 2003 when my blog was just over a year old (they had a beauty pageant for Miss Malaysian Chinese that year) and went again for BCF 2006 – check out the Borneo Cultural Festival category for full coverage!


Here is my photoblog for BCF 2014:

ayam pansoh

Ayam Pansuh is a Sarawakian dish that uses bamboo to cook chicken. The meat is stuffed into the tube with tapioca leaves and some water before being cooked over a charcoal fire. The bamboo is then cracked open and the water becomes the stock of this chicken dish. You can eat the tapioca leaves too!

beancurd sheet

This is a piece of tofu skin that’s been dipped in *real fish batter* before being deep fried. I’ve never quite had something like this before. It’s made of soybeans – basically a bean curd sheet that’s rehydrated and coated with fish. My dad loved it.


12 different types of satay! There’s chicken skin, chicken heart, chicken liver, rabbit, beef, lamb, cockles, ostrich, and many other unusual proteins on skewers. No pork satay here though coz this is a halal stall. However, my favorite guilty pleasure is here in abundance – grilled chicken skin actually tastes wonderful, but you can’t eat too much of it or you’ll get sick of the ultra rich fat.

wife biscuits

Wife Cake comes in many different variants here. Besides the traditional lao por peng, there’s also “Husband Biscuits” (Biskut Suami) which uses star anise as a filling.

pulut panggang

Pulut Panggang makes an authentic appearance too! It’s glutinous rice wrapped in banana leaves that’s been grilled over a charcoal BBQ, giving it the distinctive smoked flavor. I bought several of the beef and chicken filled ones and it was good.

potato twisters

I got potato twisters as well – a staple fair food. It’s a whole potato that’s been cut into spirals and this version uses a sweet batter to coat it before it’s deep fried and slathered with mayo and chilli sauce.

bcf2014 me

Awesome stuff.

ice cream cone

This is a very diluted soft serve ice cream cone. It’s a mix of chocolate and vanilla but it tastes horrible – akin to a penny pinching coffee shop being miserly with the cocoa powder. smirk

chess competition

Chinese chess competition that’s open to the public. It was played on one of the smaller stages in a tournament format.

best pavilion

This particular booth got Best of Show. The Chinese pavilions are usually very well decorated compared to the sparse Malay booths.


Here’s another example.

chinese culture art

These pavilions are usually made by clan associations e.g. Heng Hua, Foochow etc but some of them are owned by more general groups like the Chinese Culture & Art Appreciation societies…

gula melaka puffs

…and they have the manpower from clan membership working inside too!

clan pavilions

The Chinese pavilions line the side facing the main road so it’s beautiful when you look in that way – the lights, the glitter, the jazz! (or rather, er-hu ;))

taiwanese food

There’s also a huge Taiwanese food trend in the stalls this year.


Music, dance and cultural performances are constantly done on the main stage – it’s also a major attraction besides the food.

sugar machine

Sugar twill machine that makes candy on a stick with CAD printing that you can choose – anything from your Chinese Zodiac (Rooster, Dragon, Snake etc) to intellectual property (Doraemon, Hello Kitty and the Disney character lineup). It’s very popular with kids.

sugar twill

(and the young-at-heart)

sibu pasar malam

The Sibu Pasar Malam Association also has a booth selling traditional night market fare.


Gardenia, Massimo and other commercial large-scale baking and distribution operations in KL don’t sell their RM 0.80 ready-to-eat cream filled buns here, so people often buy them in bulk at LCCT/KLIA2 before flying back. There’s now a Sibu company doing it – UniqBun.


This is my favorite food of the Borneo Cultural Festival 2014. I award it my personal blue ribbon. 😉 I even went back the next day with my dad to get some more. It’s cooked-to-order palm sugar balls filled with glutinous rice (pulut). It puffs into a ball when it’s deep fried and it’s a sweet treat at RM 1 each.

palm sugar balls

You just can’t argue with piping hot, deep-fried sweet balls of caramelized airy dough.

dabai sarawak

Oh, and it’s dabai season again! I like how this stall had samplers that has been blanched and marinated in soy sauce and sugar (the traditional way of preparing it). You can only get these in Sarawak. It’s called okana (black olives) but it’s not technically in the olive family. A delicious, seasonal local delicacy.

cultural performance

I quite enjoyed going to this year’s Borneo Cultural Festival with my dad. It didn’t run for a while due to politics but now that it’s back, I hope it’ll be an annual event. It wasn’t very packed on the last day due to the rain and some of the food items sells out fast since it starts at 5 pm but it’s a lot of fun!

food stalls

More importantly, BCF 2014 is a festival we can call our own! 🙂

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16 thoughts on “Borneo Cultural Festival 2014”

  1. Wowwwww!!!!! Sure is very big and very grand, compared to previous years. I did not bother to go – the heat and the crowd would make my head spin…and I would just go home in the end. Old age, I guess.

    Uniqbun is sold at all Sugar Bun outlets – maybe it’s from their bakery. Some of the faces of the people in your photos sure look familiar – but hey, Sibu’s a small town, anyway. You can run but you cannot hide. 😀

    Love that BCF information pillar – very nicely done.

    • UniqBun was looking for distributors and asked me if I wanted to be one! 🙂

      Haha! I think they’re providing SugarBun with the product, I have a brochure at home, thought it was a good idea, not sure if it’s going to take off here though coz office workers here tend to lim teh outside at 10 am due to relaxed company policies and there’s none of the ultra long hours in certain industries in KL so the market might not be there for snack on the go.

      Borneo Cultural Festival in 2003 was the grandest – they had a HUGE 10 meter long Dayak motif which features a tuak container pouring tuak into another receptacle, like a waterfall fountain!

      There was a beauty pageant that year too:

      Nowadays, Borneo Cultural Festival is much smaller, it’s a little disappointing to see it going from a grand festival rivalling Kuching Fest to something that’s a shadow of it’s former self – even the crowd has thinned and enthusiasm dimmed. It’s still better than nothing but you’re not missing much mate.

  2. Aaaww.. so you were back in Sibu just for this BCF???

    This post makes me miss Kuching Fest though.. with all the food in one place but but BCF looks more happening than Kuching Fest.. i like that 12 types of satay !!!

    • Nope, I came back to visit my dad! 🙂

      I also had to do sign some lawyer documents from my late mom’s sudden passing so I flew back for a couple of days. I didn’t even know BCF was running at this time until my dad told me about it when we were driving back home from the airport!

      Borneo Cultural Festival used to be *awesome* – it lived up to it’s name and it was about culture: blowpipe demonstrations (where the public can try from an Iban master, to hit targets), Melanau swing sets (the large, complex ones where men swing from a bamboo matrix to prove their manhood – I tried too, it was fun) to a large Chinese, Malay, Dayak features that’s 10 meters high and has tuak constantly pouring down!

      Kuching Festival is nicer now, there’s a lot more food stalls than BCF and there are large installations – like the ice sculpture exhibition:

      I hope they make BCF better coz a lot of Sibu folks I met aren’t even going anymore and don’t have the enthusiasm for it coz it used to be awesome and now it’s just little more than a glorified pasar malam. I am quite disappointed, I hope the organizers make it like it was – a real culture festival!

    • It used to be a lot better 11 years ago! 🙂

      I first went to Borneo Cultural Festival in 2003, just a year after I started blogging and I came back to Sibu after studying in Melbourne. It was really a cultural festival back then – lots of interesting stuff like a GIGANTIC and *authentic* bamboo swing set made by Melanaus to swing to another side and prove their manhood.

      I jumped onto the rope and held on on while more and more people jumped on the rope so it becomes like a wrecking ball made of bodies of men (and boys) and you’re supposed to let go and land on a 10 feet high bamboo matrix from the thick rope. It was fun and what BCF is supposed to be about.

      I don’t know how or when or even if they lost the funding. I’m puzzled by how BCF lost it’s way to become what it is now – I first went in 2003, then 2006, then 2008 and there were a couple of years when it was not running due to political spite, then 2014. I blogged about it every single time I went – you can see the difference, it was so nice in the past!

    • Yeah, there’s a lot of good food always! 🙂

      BCF used to be so much bigger and grander though…but I’m glad I caught this year’s!

  3. ooo, i hadn’t heard about this festival before, so it’s cool that you’re introducing it … and wow, look at all the satay! i would totally head for that … chicken liver, heart, skin, rabbit, cockles and ostrich for me. heh, and the potato twister skewer looks irresistible too! and all the other unique treats we can’t find in peninsular m’sia 😀
    the whole festival looks very meriah, with everyone enjoying themselves 🙂

    • I used to write about this festival when I came back from uni in Melbourne! 🙂

      I still have the 2003 BCF in the archives and it was so much grander and authentic then – they had blowpipes etc. It has become slightly different in character now but at least it’s still running, it didn’t run for a few years due to politics (it was in the papers – the festival was literally cancelled due to the Sibu by-elections since DAP won majority in the city, the old guard pulled the plug).

  4. “Embracing diversity” .Their slogan in this year, 2014 🙂
    I never know BCF has something that comes across like the sugar sculpture(correct me if I’m wrong).Indeed surprising….

    • Sarawak is actually a very nice place to live! 🙂

      We don’t have all the racial tension that the politicians are trying to pull over here in Peninsula Malaysia.

      Sugar sculpture? There’s an ice sculpture for Kuching Fest, but that was in 2004. The 2003 BCF had a very nice and large water feature which poured tuak (a local rice wine) though!

  5. Oh what a great variety of food. I’m a sucker for satay skewers, so I think I would have ordered one of each if I had been there.

    I still haven’t managed to get to Malaysia but this is making me want to head there asap. Well, maybe next year when the festival rolls around again 🙂

    • Yeah, you should really come over Sophie! 🙂

      I’ll be your personal tour guide if you ever do. The satay skewers are great, one interesting thing about Sarawak is that we have a lot of different kinds e.g. chicken skin which isn’t available here in Peninsula Malaysia (the other part of the country, separated by the sea).

      I love chicken skin satay, it was everywhere in Sarawak and there’s none over here where I’m based now. It’s not something you can eat a lot of, but I bet you’ll enjoy one!

    • Yeah, this has the night market reps here too! 🙂

      It’s much bigger than the night market though – BCF has lots of independent food stalls too! However, it used to be much better in 2003, by the time 2008 rolled around, it has become something of a state fair instead of a real culture fest.


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