Oct 5, 2018

If you are one to travel, you might be familiar with the street food scene in Taiwan. Neatly stacked savory balls, skewered snacks, sizzling pans of oil and whatnot line the night markets of Taipei.

Along with these smells and tastes and all-around audiovisual extravaganza are the signs accompanying each stall. Noticeably, most of the signs—if not all—featured the letter “Q” or sometimes “QQ” amid a line of Chinese texts.

taipei streetfood
A scene at one of the night markets in Taipei. Photo courtesy of Unsplash

What exactly does this Q/QQ mean?

Now before you jump into conclusions, it has nothing to do with the rating, food safety- or worthiness-related.  Rather, Q is used to describe a distinct mouthfeel or texture associated with Taiwanese food.

milk tea pixabay
Photo courtesy of Pixabay

In an interview with the New York Times, even the manager of the famed Chun Shui Tang teahouse who allegedly invented milk tea is having a hard time describing what exactly Q means.

“Basically it means springy, soft, elastic”

Despite the contradicting etymologies of the term Q, chefs and established food personalities in Taiwan seem to agree on one thing: that Q manifests in the texture that is unique to most of their local food, the property of being “springy, soft, and elastic.”

Think tapioca balls, the ones that come with your order of milk tea. In fact, it is said that you can judge how good a milk tea is based on how Q the tapioca pearls are.

Other Asian cuisines also share the similar texture. Our very own kakanin or rice cakes can be considered Q. Most food made with some type of starch is Q in the strictest sense. That includes noodles, rice cakes, and the likes.

beef noodle soup
Beef noodle soup. Photo courtesy of Pixabay

But it doesn’t end with sweet dishes. Q can also be found in savory dishes, which those unacquainted with Taiwanese cuisine may find weird. It’s in their fish balls and noodle dishes, too.

It is not exclusive to Taiwan, as well. Hong Kong and parts of China also use Q to describe their food.

Simply put, Q is Taiwan’s equivalent to Japan’s umami and Italy’s al dente. The NY Times said it best: Q is something that is “cherished and essential” to Taiwanese cuisine.


Header photo courtesy of 

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TAGS: Q Taiwanese cuisine