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The Dish: Black Pepper Chicken at China Garden

The Dish: Black Pepper Chicken at China Garden
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Monthly Feature, By Jarred Kibbey

Each month, Jarred highlights one of his favorite dishes from around Little Rock.

The second floor of the UALR Bowen School of Law Library likely still smells like Chinese food. Black Pepper Chicken to be more specific. Dinner meal D17 from China Garden to be exact.

I remember the first time I tried China Garden. It was during finals on my 2L year. We had been studying all day and we were stressed, tired, and hungry. A friend suggested we go get takeout from this Chinese place right down the road. I had driven by this restaurant a hundred times and nothing about its bright orange and unkempt exterior made me want to try it, so my response was, “no thanks, I would rather not get food poisoning.” They returned 15 minutes later and raving about the black pepper chicken, so I had to try a bite. I was hooked and demanded that we get takeout from there the very next day.

The chicken bits are perfectly fried and then tossed in a sweet and spicy sauce. And like any good fried guilty pleasure, it is plenty salty. If you look closely at each piece, you can see small crystals of what I can only assume are salt or sugar. (note: I have other ideas of what these small crystals could be, but The Mighty Rib asked me to refrain from posting my thoughts). I recently went back there before writing this piece to see if it was like I remembered and it did not disappoint.

To say I ate this dish often in law school would be an understatement. I was a regular there. I frequented it so many times that once after winter break was over the owner asked where I had been. I wasn’t sure what he was getting at, so I asked. He simply responded, “I haven’t seen you, but I know school has started back, because I asked a professor if school wasn’t back in session of if you had graduated.”

Like many dishes that I truly love, I shared this with many classmates, who then shared it with others. During my last year of law school, you could find someone enjoying this dish somewhere in the library almost round the clock, if you didn’t see it being eaten, you could most certainly smell it. That is what I am confident that the smell of black pepper chicken still lingers in the Bowen Law Library.