Hairy melon, fuzzy gourd, Chinese preserving melon, wax gourd, moa qua (”hairy gourd”).
While chi qua may be unfamiliar to many Australians, it is one of the staples of the Chinese diet. Chi quas are distinguished by their coating of fine hairs. The gourds need to be handled carefully, as the hairs can cause skin irritations.
Chi quas are produced on a vine which can be trained over a trellis or simply sprawl on the ground. They need warm temperatures to be productive so can be produced in temperate areas during summer but more tropical areas throughout the year.
The best quality chi quas are the hairy ones! This shows that they are young and fresh. Very young chi quas can be eaten raw, but the vegetables are more usually cooked. They have a mild, pleasant flavour not unlike zucchini. They can be peeled, then chunks added to soup or steamed. Sliced or shredded chi qua is a good addition to a stir fry. They are particularly good when the seedy core is scraped out and the gourd stuffed with pork, prawns or other flavoursome mixture before baking or steaming.
Chi quas are sensitive to temperatures less than 10oC. For this reason, it is best to store them in a cool place (12-20°C) rather than inside the fridge. As their skin is a good barrier to water loss, they can stay firm for several weeks under these conditions.