QQ chicken frame / skeleton / bones / whatever

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David Rowe took this photo of a sign on a market stall in Sydney Chinatown:

These "Sweet & Chilli Chicken Frames" were being sold in a cumin lamb stall, but David reports that they didn't seem popular — he only saw lamb being cooked.  With a name like "Sweet & Chilli Chicken Frames", I don't think that many English speaking customers would find them particularly attractive.

Lots of things to talk about.

First of all, as we know from previous Language Log posts, "QQ" is a ubiquitous and highly polysemous expression in China and Taiwan nowadays.  Below is a list of some possible meanings for QQ.  I have boiled it down and kept the explanations as simple as possible.  As I noted in the first post cited here, "One could write a small treatise about the various meanings and origins of 'QQ' in Chinese…."  See:

Most English meanings of "QQ" have been taken up by young Chinese netizens, plus they have their own set of distinctively Chinese meanings for "QQ".

See also here, here, here, and here.

The following is a list of the most popular applications of QQ in the Sinosphere:

1. Tencent QQ instant messaging service and chat room.

2. The English word "cute".

3. Q or QQ in Taiwanese means "chewy" (like gummy bears and certain kinds of pasta); "toothsome; al dente".  QQ is generally considered a desirable quality in Taiwanese cuisine, as it contributes to mouthfeel. There is no Chinese character for this morpheme in Taiwanese. Although the made-up character [食+丘] is sometimes pressed into service (e.g., khiū-teh-teh [食+丘] 嗲嗲), the Roman letter form of the morpheme (Q or QQ or even QQQ) is far more prevalent (almost always, since [食+丘] is not really an established character).

4. QQ is the name of a car made by Chery Automobile.

5. A very different meaning for QQ is that of an emoticon showing a person with tears in their eyes.

6. Also said to be related to #5 is the usage in the popular internet game called Warcraft, where (I am told; I don't know this firsthand) you press ALT+QQ when you are forced to quit. Ex.: "Why don't you QQ, noob?"

BONUS:  moniker of a commenter on Language Log

Bear these meanings in mind, folks.  As we proceed with the explication of the rest of the name of this delicacy, see if you can figure out which one fits it best.  Explicating the "QQ" will be the pièce de résistance of this post, so we'll save that for last.

Fortunately, the hardest part of my job was already done in this post: "Chicken framework / rack / skeleton / trunk / carcass / whatever" (1/12/14).

If you are interested in the esoteric lore surrounding the transcendental wonders of the chicken torso / trunk / frame in Chinese cuisine, I highly recommend immersing yourself in that post and the many learned comments thereto.  For those who just want a scaled down explanation, we may describe the jījià 雞架 as what's left of the chicken after the legs, breast, head, wings, neck, giblets, and skin are removed. It is usually used to make soup.  Here's an introduction in Chinese.

I would add, however, this true story about an evening out with Xu Wenkan, my best Chinese friend, and his family, whom I've known for about 35 years.  I invited Xu xs to his favorite restaurant in Shanghai.  I said, "Let's go to the place above all others in Shanghai where you'd like to have dinner."  You have to remember that, when this happened about 15 years ago, Shanghai wasn't yet as glitzy and glamorous as it is now.  Furthermore, Xu xs is a humble, plain person who does not like to splurge or be ostentatious.  But I stressed that this was a special evening for him and his family, so I asked him to please pick the restaurant that he would enjoy above all others.

We took several buses and walked the last few blocks.  When we arrived, I was flabbergasted to find that it was a jījià 雞架 house.  I said to Xu xs, are you sure this is where you want to eat, and he assured me, "Yes, this is it".  I could see that he was already drooling, so we marched in, sat down, and ordered a huge platter of chicken bones.  And these really were chicken bones without much meat on them, just scattered on the platter.  I really couldn't understand what Xu xs saw in them.  But we all dug in, I somewhat reluctantly.

It was a messy affair (I had to keep wiping my hands and face), but the worst part was that little bits of meat and bones kept getting stuck between my teeth.  (You really had to gnaw away at the bones to get any meat.)  But for Xu xs, it was even worse / better.  You see, Xu xs had terrible teeth (he has since gotten a complete set of false teeth), and the jagged bones kept getting caught in what was left of his natural choppers.

They were torture to me, but Xu xs, his wife, and his son loved the bones, so after the first big platter was finished, they ordered a second big platter!  That evening, as we wended our way back home, Xu xs used up quite a few toothpicks to clean his fragmentary teeth, and I noticed that the next day he was still picking away at them.  Perhaps that was part of the pleasure of eating jījià 雞架 for Xu xs.

Now, back to that very special kind of jījià 雞架 called QQ雞架 that is the subject of this post.  It seems that QQ雞架 is a famous brand in Mainland China and that it is noted for its sweet, delicious, and spicy (tiánxiānglà) 甜香辣 taste.  Here at Language Log, we know our là 辣 ("spicy hot; chili"), because we've examined it in several posts, e.g.:

Let's back translate to see if we can determine what kind of flavoring is applied to the QQjījià QQ雞架 advertised here, since there's no Chinese for that portion of the name.  The English says "Sweet & Chilli", which I postulate may have come from tiánlà 甜辣.  This is not a particularly common type of jījià 雞架, but we do find that, together with málà jījià 麻辣鸡架 ("numbing and spicy hot chicken frames"), it is popular in Kunming, Yunnan.

Finally, we're ready to tackle "QQ".  Voilà!

It turns out that this particular kind of "QQ" is essentially a description of the type of facial expression (note the arched eyebrows!) that supposedly comes over one after eating their jījià 雞架.  It does not have to do with the chicken being chewy, crying faces, or anything else that QQ stands for these days.  Indeed, this is what Xu Wenkan, his wife, and his son looked like after consuming two big platters of jījià 雞架.

Finally, to the question why anyone would want to eat chicken bones, this is how one of my graduate students from the mainland replied:  "delicious and super cheap".

[Thanks to Sophie Wei, Fangyi Cheng, Chia-hui Lu, and Rebecca Fu]


  1. Sanna said,

    May 14, 2015 @ 8:59 am

    Source: I played World of Warcraft for several (too many >_>) years.

    #6 is not correct. Alt+QQ is not a way to quit the game client. The usage you mentioned, "Why don't you QQ, noob?", is used in context of #5, the crying eyes, and can be read as 'why don't you crai moar (cry more),' ie, 'why don't you stop your whining and improve your playskills if all you're going to do is cry about how you lose all the time?' or even 'if all you're going to do is cry, get out of my way so I can play the game.' It's not a very polite statement X D.

  2. John Rohsenow said,

    May 14, 2015 @ 10:38 am

    But what about (味同) 雞肋: (wei tong jilei) Lit: (Tastes like) chicken ribs;
    Fig: (be of) little or no value?

  3. K. Chang said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 1:32 am

    About Jijia (Chicken "frame")

    A lot of Chinese food is derived from famine cuisine… it's almost a part of racial identity to waste nothing. It's no surprise that even chicken bones / frame / rack has its own prep method, and chicken wings and chicken feet sell better than chicken breast meat. I've been taught, since I was very young, that bone-in stuff is automatically better than deboned stuff, almost without exception. Fish with a lot of bones is supposed to be tastier, ribs are better than steak… :) I don't agree, but that's another story.

    About QQ

    I've personally always equated QQ to Italian al dente where there's a little bit of chewiness. However, I may have been influenced by the TV commercials I used to watch before I left Taiwan where WeiChuan (food brand) always advertise their mianjing (麵筋)aka saitan / wheat gluten / gluten meat as "QQ and tasty".

  4. maidhc said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 1:51 am

    We have a chain here called QQ Noodle or perhaps QQ Noodles. If you go to their website, http://www.qqnoodle.com, they claim their name is QQ Noodles. The logo seen on the restaurant is singular, the one on the website is plural. (See here.) Anyway, obviously it's the Taiwanese meaning of QQ.

    Oddly, their website says: We offer you the choice of two exquisitely appointed bridal suites. Our main hall is elegantly appointed suite with high ceilings, decorated in soft tones and accented with enchanting grand chandeliers for antique Victorian charm.

    I suppose they mean banquet room rather than bridal suite. If you look at their menu, it's definitely comfort food rather than what you would probably want for a wedding banquet. Or is there some tradition about noodles and weddings? Their video doesn't show any enchanting chandeliers either.

    The Chinese name on the sign is too cursive for me to pick up, but somewhere (probably a Chinese food blog) I got 三好面馆 Sānhǎo miànguǎn. That doesn't look quite right to me, but I don't know what I'm doing. Google Translate says "Miyoshi noodle", but if I go one character at a time I get "Three good noodles".

    Miyoshi is a place in Japan named 三次市. I think Google Translate is off a bit, especially since it knew it was translating Chinese.

  5. maidhc said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 2:35 am

    K. Chang: Our Chinese friends mostly don't like chicken breast because they say it's dry and tasteless. I have to agree. We also found that the chicken sold at Chinese supermarkets (in the US) is much better than what they have at American supermarkets. It's mostly free-range and you have a choice of breeds. We don't eat the feet though. Maybe I will try it some day. I used to work for someone who had chicken feet for lunch every day.

    We went to a Korean restaurant where the house special was fried chicken. It came just like KFC, breaded and bone-in. Everybody there but us was Korean, and they all ordered the fried chicken. So I became curious how they were going to eat it, because the restaurant only provided chopsticks.

    Interestingly, each table took a different approach.
    A.) Pick up the chicken piece with chopsticks and bite the meat off. Usually you lose control of the piece, so you have to keep low down to the plate so it doesn't go flying.
    B.) Pick up the chicken piece with chopsticks, then grab the other end with your fingers to keep it steady and start biting.
    C.) Pick up the chicken piece in your fingers, rip off the meat with your fingers, put it in your rice bowl, then eat with chopsticks. (This was a family with small children.)
    D.) Pick it up and eat it like a American would do.

    I've had some Chinese dishes with bone-in chicken, and I'm never quite sure what the polite way of eating it is. Spit out the bones? Duck we usually get to take away and eat at home, but the same question would apply if we were in public.

    My experience with chicken frames (in the link above) was a place where if you ordered a beer they brought a litre, and most people ordered two at once, so it was hardly formal dining.

  6. K. Chang said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 3:05 am

    @maidhc — hmmm… I think I've been there! Though not that particular restaurant.

    Their name is actually 三好拉麵 (sanhaolamien) which is manually "pulled" noodles, or at least they claim so.

    Their machine translation is really off. It doesn't look big enough to be a banquet hall. I think they meant two rooms that can be closed off for "private parties" that can fit like 10-12 people that you sometimes find in medium sized restaurants.

    As for bone-in chicken… generally they arrive in chunks that doesn't require too much manipulation. You can use chopstick to hold it and bite off the meat, and you can even put it into your mouth and spit out the bone. Generally there's an extra plate in front of you that can be used for that, but don't do a "loud" spit. Use chopstick to make it a "soft landing". At least that's how I'd do it.

  7. K. Chang said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 3:40 am

    @Victor Mair — looks like you got this QQ Jijia's origin slightly wrong. According to the website, they simply picked the QQ name because it's unique. They are a franchise that will sell you the spice mix and city-level franchise for a very reasonable fee of a few thousand RMB. They'll do a cart too if you want to do street food. But they are NOT selling the recipe. Seems they're going the KFC route.


  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 7:31 am

    @K. Chang

    Thanks for all your comments on this post and the Janine Chang post.

    I'd be grateful if you quote the language on QQ Jijia's website that says "QQ" means "unique".

  9. K. Chang said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 6:24 pm

    They didn't actually state it outright but implied it when they claimed to have the term ranked highest on all search engines. There certainly wasn't anything on your other cited website or the one I cited to indicate the origin of the term other than marketing speak like over 10 years of. Research…

    As this is in China I doubt the picked it for its taiwanese connotation. IMHO they found the term unique and there really is no story behind it.

  10. K. Chang said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 6:37 pm

    I also find it interesting that I've always thought Latin letter were not allowed (ref the Ning topic) perhaps rule does not apply to business names?

  11. Victor Mair said,

    May 15, 2015 @ 9:50 pm

    @K. Chang

    Latin letters are used all over the place in Taiwan and China, as we have documented numerous times on Language Log (e.g., arguably the most famous literary character of the 20th century, 阿Q; X射線 / x光; 字母词 like WTO; etc.).



    As for the meaning of QQ in QQ雞架, I think that you must have missed a big part of the original post, including a very cute illustration.

  12. julie lee said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 2:03 am

    @K Chang says:
    "A lot of Chinese food is derived from famine cuisine." Actually, I see a different side. I see the love of nibbling or gnawing on the chicken frame and chicken feet not as coming from famine cuisine but from effete cuisine—you eat not for survival or for strength but for a certain kind of pleasure, the pleasure of nibbling and gnawing. If that's what you're looking for, then you find a hefty chicken breast or a big steak lying on the plate in front of you, er, boring. When you can look at the chicken breast or the steak on the plate as boring–and that's how many of my Chinese friends see it– and want instead the chicken frame or chicken feet, with almost no meat, then that is what I would call effete.

  13. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 3:45 am

    @Victor Mair — I personally think the eyebrows were just artistic license. There's certainly NO mention of anything about facial expression of "finger-licking good" or such on either the website you cited… or the one I cited. Perhaps we each saw what we wanted to see.

    @Julie Lee — is there even a formal definition of effete food? I've seen "slow food", but not effete food. Also how do you explain the eating of insects like scorpions, grasshoppers, and such as street food or otherwise? Or cats and dogs and such? Also, the two were not incompatible. It is not inconceivable that what was once considered famine food is now considered effete food. Lobster was once considered junk that nobody wanted (fed to prisoners). It wasn't until canning and railroad conspired to create a market for them that lobster became "premium" food. Wouldn't something like jijia or bony meat and its reputation be merely a shift in cultural attitude?

  14. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 4:13 am

    FYI, this is how "cockroach of the sea" (i.e. lobster) got rebranded from junk to fancy food of today.


  15. Victor Mair said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 7:05 am

    @K. Chang

    And I still don't see how / where you got that QQ = "unique".

  16. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 12:03 pm

    @Victor Mair — there are several different so called QQ 雞架 franchises all claiming to be the original. The one you cited, qwq520.com with the eyebrows is actually 興隆蜜絕(tm) QQ雞架,a trademarked term. So it's unlikely they are the original QQjijia. At best, they are creators of 興隆 Xinglong QQ 雞架.Their domain was registered on 28-JUN-2012.

    The website I cited, qqjijia.cn claimed to have 7 year experience with QQjijia, and their domain was registered back in 06-MAR-2009, which sort of fits their 7 years claim (with a bit of fibbing). Their QQ does not have the eyebrows.

    Thus, I conclude that the eyebrows are completely irrelevant to the QQ name.

  17. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 12:15 pm

    Further searching through qwq520.com revealed some posts allegedly dated back to 2008. IMHO, there's no point in tracing "who's first". Seems to be rather pointless.

  18. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 12:34 pm

    Just for grins, I did a bit more Baidu search, and got this Baidu Zhidao (Baidu Knows!) Q&A (i.e. Baidu's clone of Yahoo Answers)


    Apparently the fried chicken craze was really hot from 2008-2013, but it seems to have faded by now. This guy's asking from Liaoning, so I'm assuming the guy who answered in 2013 is from Liaoning too. They had four of those stores in his area: 马氏 正大 小作坊 啃德鸡, which translates to Ma Clan Chicken, ZhenDa (Straight and Large?) XiaoZhuoFon (small batch studio?) and Ken-De-Ji (Kentucky?!?!) and apparently Ma Clan and Ken-De-Ji went under quickly, leaving two.

    Maybe you can write a bit more about the "faux brand" phenomena in China.

  19. Victor Mair said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

    @K. Chang

    As you correctly observe, there's no point in trying to figure out who first used the expression QQ雞架, nor in trying to figure out exactly what the first person who used the expression QQ雞架 meant by it. Indeed, the expression QQ雞架 might mean different things to different people at different times.

    As I explained in the original post, QQ has many different meanings, and I mentioned some of them, not all of which may pertain to gnawing on chicken bones.

    There's an additional meaning that I didn't mention (it would have been impossible to list all possible meanings of QQ in Chinese), viz., smiling.

    See here:

    Now that fits perfectly with the advertisement of the QQ with arched eyebrows, the girl to the right of them who is also smiling with arched eyebrows, and to Xu Wenkan and his family in Shanghai (mentioned in the original post). For that company's advertisement at that time, smiling eyes with arched brows are relevant, and several Chinese friends who have seen that advertisement made the same remark, without my prompting.

    As for the "'faux brand' phenomena", I've written about it so often on LLog (see below for just a few examples) that I'm not in the mood to do it again unless something really spectacular turns up.

    Star what? (7/24/11)

    Nibble His Chicken (11/5/08)

    Homa Obama (9/22/14)

    Your friendly fake Apple Stoer in Kunming (7/23/11)

    Real fake (6/20/09)

  20. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

    @Victor Mair — "QQ with arched eyebrows, the girl to the right of them who is also smiling with arched eyebrows…"

    That's stockphoto. Here's another variation of the same stock photo, different ad:


    No QQ in this one, same "arched eyebrows". Perhaps you're seeing what you wanted to see based on your friend's enjoyment. Nothing wrong with that…

  21. K. Chang said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 5:25 pm

    I checked previous entries on "Q" here and I think I found something not quite covered… The word 糗 (qiu) and how Q as chewy may have derived from that.


  22. Victor Mair said,

    May 16, 2015 @ 11:25 pm

    In item #3 of the original post, I discussed the use of Q or QQ for the Taiwanese morpheme that means "chewy". I also noted that there is no character for this morpheme, but that the made-up character [食+丘] is sometimes pressed into service and that the Roman letter form is commonly used to represent this morpheme. For more posts on Q or QQ as the Taiwanese word for "chewy", see here.

    I have previously seen 糗 suggested as a possible origin for this Taiwanese morpheme, but the meanings don't match up: "parched wheat or rice; cooked dry food for journey; broken grain; solid food; a surname".



    qiǔ 糗 is an old and well-attested character. None of its early (or later, for that matter) occurrences indicate that it was the source of the Taiwanese morpheme for "chewy":





    Asserting that 糗 may have been the source of the Taiwanese morpheme for "chewy" is an example of the application of the fallacious concept of běnzì 本字 ("original character"), which I have discussed here, here, and here.

  23. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 7:25 am

    @K. Chang

    That's what you do with stock photos (btw, it's great that you found that) if you want to save money on your advertising budget, instead of hiring a professional photographer and model, both of which soon become costly. You find a suitable stock photo and you reuse it for your own purpose.

    Those arched eyebrows on the Q's are there for a reason.

  24. K. Chang said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 12:51 pm

    Had a different thought about Q in Taiwanese. Is there any Japanese terms / words that sounds similar and may have similar meaning? Taiwan, or Formosa, spent decades under Japanese rule. It may "conveniently" (not!) explain how the Japanese education supplanted the Chinese education and how traditional Chinese words got corrupted.

    Even now Taiwanese seem to emphasize their "Taiwanese accent" (mostly from Minnanyu, which is derived from Fukienese). I can do Minnanyu-accented Mandarin. I don't know Minnanyu to hold a long conversation though.

    Looking at origin of "Q" from a purely Mandarin Chinese origin may be barking up the wrong tree, and that I do agree with you. I personally would check Japanese and Minnanyu. Wonder if there's any scholarly articles on how much the Japanese occupation had changed the Taiwan branch of minnanyu?

  25. Victor Mair said,

    May 17, 2015 @ 11:42 pm

    @K. Chang

    Taiwanese (also called Hoklo) is a kind of Minnanyu. The "chewy" morpheme — as I have mentioned above and in other posts — is a Taiwanese morpheme, not Mandarin or Japanese.

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