There’s a new sensation on the food horizon – it’s “Q”

“Q” is to Taiwanese as al dente is to Italian or umami to Japanese. It’s a quality that is positively revered in the cooking and eating of Taiwan and applies to hot, cold, sweet, savoury, food, and drink. “Q” is the local Taiwanese term for the springy texture of foods like thick rice noodles, tapioca pearls, and fish balls, all mainstays of that island’s cuisine.
Taiwanese cooking is remarkable and rewarding. Long swept under the umbrella of ‘Chinese food’ in North America, Taiwanese cooking has its own identity. Influences from 50 years of Japanese occupation and the influx of mainland Chinese in 1949 are present. The traditions of earlier migrations are also part of the mix; the Hakka brought pickled vegetables, the Hui people from western China came with flatbreads and hand-pulled noodles, and people from Fujian province arrived with sweet braising liquids as is the impact of the island’s indigenous inhabitants who used roots like taro and sweet potato.
Beef noodle soup
© Laurielle Penny
Squid noodles
Squid noodles
The dish that perhaps best symbolized Taiwanese “Q”-ness for me is a humble one that has reached icon status - Beef Noodle Soup. A great beef noodle soup uses beef neck bones for the stock which is enriched with pastes made from fava and soy beans, boneless shank meat or tendon for braising, and custom pressed noodles. Every Taiwanese cook has their own secret ingredient added for flavour such as apples, cilantro stems, and star anise. A jar of chili oil and a crock of pickled mustard greens are offered as optional condiments. The delightful ‘Q’- ness comes from both the chewy noodles and the texture of the beef and is enhanced by the deep flavours of the broth.

“Q” is not just savoury. There’s dessert “Q” too! Shaved ice is one of the many Taiwanese creations that have become globe food phenoms, together with bubble tea, popcorn chicken seasoned with five spice powder, and ‘gua bao’ – those steamed buns filled with braised pork belly. In Taiwan, shaved ice with “Q” means a mountain of freshly shaved ice with a colourful topping of black tapioca pearls, pink slices of taro, yellow cubes of sweet potato flour, and white glutinous rice balls. It’s all about that remarkable “Q” texture.
Taiwan dessert
Other “Q” favourites include black pepper buns, sweet potato balls, and oyster omelets – all mainstays of Taiwan’s fabulous night markets. Grazing is big in Taiwan – the night markets of Taiwan are right up there with those of Hong Kong and Singapore for their ‘xiao chi’, the ‘small food’ from street stalls.

Interested in tasting Taiwan and getting into the “Q” of it all? Join Chef Angus An for an extraordinary food experience in Taiwan, November, 2021.

P.S. I visited Taiwan in 2018 and spent a lot of time eating in restaurants and food stalls. Every chef and food handler I saw wore a mask and gloves when preparing and serving food. This attention to hygiene is likely part of the reason Taiwan has been so successful in battling Covid-19. - Laurielle

Taiwan Food Tour with Chef Angus An, November 1 - 10, 2021
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