Indian Biryani Vs Arabian Kepsa: All About These Rice Dishes
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Who doesn’t like the Biryani? This dish is believed to have been brought to India by Persian travellers and merchants. India soon made this dish their own. While the dish is eaten in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, multiple regions in India too have their own take on the Biryani. The robust Hyderabadi Biryani, the aromatic Lucknowi Biryani, and the Kolkata Biryani with large chunky potatoes. The South of India has its unique versions like the Dindigul Biryani and the Ambur Biryani. Each of these reflect local tastes, regional flavours  and ingredients. The Biryani is also cooked as part of festivities and celebrations.

In India a vegetable version of the Biryani is also popular. It is spicier than a pulao and vegetables like beans, carrots and cauliflower usually replace the meat.

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The Kepsa, also called Kabsa, is a traditional dish from the Arabian Peninsula, particularly associated with Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other Gulf countries. The Kepsa is a reflection of the lifestyle and culture of the nomadic Bedouin tribes as they are believed to have been the ones to invent this dish. Just like the Biryani, the Kepsa is considered a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine and is served during special occasions, family gatherings, and communal meals. 

Biryani and the Kepsa are both rice-based dishes infused with meat and spices but are different if you consider their place of origin, ingredients, preparation methods, and flavour profiles.

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Biryani in Northern India is typically made with basmati rice, a long-grain rice known for its fragrance and fluffy texture. In the Southern states short grain rice is preferred. Spices such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, bay leaves, and saffron, feature prominently in the Biryani. Biryani in India is made with chicken, mutton, prawn and fish, and is often marinated with yoghurt and spices. In some versions vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, and peas are also added. A garnish of fried onions and fresh herbs like cilantro and mint, completes the dish.

Kepsa is also cooked with long-grain rice varieties. The spices used in Kepsa are typically subtle compared to Biryani and include black lime (loomi), bay leaves, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, and saffron. The meat used is usually chicken, lamb, or even fish. Kabsa often includes vegetables such as tomatoes, carrots, and onions, which are cooked with the rice. 

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Cooking Techniques  

The Biryani is known for its layered cooking technique. The rice and meat (or vegetables) are typically cooked separately and then layered together in a pot, often with a layer of fried onions and fresh herbs between the layers. This pot is then sealed with dough cooked on low heat, in a technique called ‘dum’ cooking. Cooking this way allows the rice to cook slowly and beautifully absorb the flavours and the aromas of the spices and meat.

The Kepsa, on the other hand, is usually cooked using what is called the ‘one-pot method’. The meat is first sautéed with spices. Then, water or broth is added, and the rice and vegetables are cooked together with the meat and spices. The flavours blend creating a wholesome dish. The final dish is moist but not too wet.

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The Biryani is usually spicy and the saffron and fried onions give it a natural sweetness. The tender marinated, fully cooked rice grains each skilfully separated from the other, allows multiple textures to come together. The Biryani is also aromatic and this comes from the spices, the saffron and also the aromatic rice.

In the Kepsa the flavours are a bit more subtle. The spices used are aromatic but not as overpowering. The natural favours of the meat come through. The use of black lime gives this dish a slight tanginess. The texture of the rice in the Kepsa is usually softer as the rice is cooked to a point where it is fully done. 


Biryani is often served in large, ornate dishes or hand and accompanied by raita, salan (a spicy gravy), or even fresh salad. It is topped with fried onions and coriander. Kepsa is traditionally served on large communal platters in its original Bedouin style and meant to be shared by the community. It is served with a simple salad, yoghurt, and a tomato sauce known as shatta. Khepsa is often topped with dry fruits.