Bringing a taste of Bangladesh to Hampton Roads

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, September 17, 2016

by Sameerah Brown

Fall is in the air and the kids are back in school. Fall is the time of the year that makes me think about and want comfort food. Comfort food varies for each individual, however, at the end the concept is still the same. Comfort food is that one thing — or to some, several things — which you can eat that makes you feel all good inside and makes you smile.
This month I will be taking you to one of my favorite restaurants, a place I go to whenever I want something great to eat, packed with flavor, never disappoints and makes me feel all good inside: Cilantro Bangladeshi Bistro, located in Norfolk.
I drove past Cilantro’s several times and never thought to inquire about what was inside. One day as I was passing by on my way home from work, curiosity got the best of me and I decided to Google their menu. After reviewing their menu, I realized that they served Indian-style cuisine, which I love; I decided I was going to give them a try.
Cilantro is a family-owned, cafeteria-style eatery run by general manger Enver Siddiky and family that serves daily made-from-scratch Bangladeshi dishes full of flavor. On any given day that you visit Cilantro’s you most likely will find Enver’s mom cooking in the kitchen, and his dad, sister or cousin greeting you.
At my first visit I was extremely impressed. The staff was very inviting, friendly and helpful in explaining their menu and giving you good recommendations. Cilantro’s menu changes regularly with the exception of a few key menu items that are available daily. There isn’t a thing that I ate that left me disappointed or regretting my choice. I’ve enjoyed the food so much that I’ve stopped by almost every day for two weeks straight! I was telling all my friends and co-workers about it, and found myself trying things that I swore I would never eat, such as eggplant and mashed sweet peas, and ended up loving them. I hate sweet peas, but Cilantro’s has a way with veggies that amazes me.
So what should one try when visiting Cilantro for the first time? EVERYTHING! Trust me, you’re going to want to! Every day you’ll find on the menu: Shahi Chicken “The Royal Chicken,” Jhaal Beef, Shrimp Malaikari and Veggie Mishali. In addition to those items, they offer a daily one-hit wonder, vegetable of the day and fish of the day. As much as I enjoy the key menu items, it is honestly those daily one-hit wonders that keep me coming back and constantly on their Facebook page to see what they have cooking today.
The Shahi Chicken and Shrimp Malaikari is a perfect option for those who love flavor but not spiciness. The Shahi Chicken is marinated in yogurt and a secret blend of spices then seared in ghee (clarified butter) and finished with a rich cream sauce flavored with saffron, cinnamon and nutmeg. The Shrimp Malaikari is slowed-cooked in coconut milk with turmeric and secret house spices. Even though I have never personally tried the shrimp, I have several friends and my kids that have several times and their only complaint was they wished they had more; it’s honestly never enough. LOL! Both dishes go really well with either the polao, which is Basmati rice made with ghee, fried onions, garlic, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, raisin and bay leaf, or the parata a flaky flat bread. The best way to describe parata is the way Enver described it to me: it tastes like a naan and a croissant fell in love and had a baby. It is ridiculously buttery and flaky; it is heaven and you can eat it by itself, which I often do.
If you are like me and enjoy eating food with a little kick, then Jhaal Beef is perfect for you. Jhaal beef is slowed-cooked with ginger and red chili making it extremely tender and bursting with flavor. The spiciness of Jhaal beef is subtle and doesn’t hit you right away, but grows with every bite.
Other spicy favorites are the Spicy Goat Curry, which is usually served as the one-hit wonder on Tuesday. Chicken Kabob, which spontaneously appears on the menu. Jhaal Chicken, which is usually the Friday one-hit wonder; and my all-time favorite, the Chili Lime Chicken. The Chili Lime Chicken is one menu item that I wish was available daily. It is the perfect combination of Chinese and Indian flavors, both sweet and spicy, similar to General Tso, but oh-so different. Enver and his mother know that when the Chili Lime Chicken is in the menu, Sameerah will be there. On Saturdays you can order Chicken or Goat Biryani, which is best described as Indian fried rice. It is meat, potatoes, raisins and polao rice cooked in a single pot seasoned with variety of spices such as mace, nutmeg, cinnamon, cardamom and saffron.
When you dine at Cilantro’s, it honestly feels like you are eating over at a friend’s house. Enver and his family will make you feel right at home and will guide you through the menu options making sure that your first taste of Bangladeshi food is everlasting. Cilantro’s has won first place in the Best of award Indian cuisine/restaurant in Norfolk two years in a row. Their food will leave you wanting and coming back for more.
Cilantro’s Bangladeshi Bistro is located at 1011 Kempsville Road, Norfolk. They are open Monday through Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Friday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Closed on Sunday. You can also find them on Facebook and see what their one-hit wonder of the day is, or call them at 757-962-1004.
Make sure the next time you are in the area stop by and tell them that I sent you.
Please continue to send in your recommendation on places you would love for me to visit outside of Franklin to Until next time!