Masak titik is a Peranakan dish that is endemic to Penang island. Although called watermelon skin soup, it actually uses the white watermelon rind without the green outer skin. It attests to the ingenuity of the Peranakan culture in making use of resources that are usually discarded.
This recipe, taken from Nonya Flavours that was published by The Star in 2003, is one of those never featured on the menus of Peranakan restaurants and now seldom prepared even in Straits Chinese homes.
It is hard to ascertain where the name masak titik, sometimes spelled titek, came about. Some Malay recipes would call for some hard spices such as candlenut to be subjected to titik or ketuk, which means to pound. Titik literally means to point or to drop, which suggests it could refer to titis, water droplets, or could crudely mean salivating.
If you have ever had masak titik before, then you can agree that this soup really opens up your appetite and makes you drool. The piquant spiciness of the chilli padi and the robust saltiness of belacan complement the cool watermelon rind so well that you wouldn’t want to waste a single bite of this soup.
The Penang Peranakan is known for their penchant for frugalness, and they would extract every bit of flavour from every ingredient. Frying the prawn heads and shells not only adds another layer of flavour, it also creates jewels of red oil that float over the soup.
The texture of the food is also very important to the Peranakans, and they achieve this in the recipe by pounding the prawns with the shallots and toasted belacan. The pounding action not only turns the prawns into belacan-seasoned curlicues, but also imparts a bouncy mouth-feel to the meat. To get this texture, you don’t want to mash the prawns too finely.
Texturally, another area of concern is to ensure that the watermelon rind is not cooked for too long or it will turn to mush. It just needs to turn slightly translucent before it goes completely transparent, so simmer only about 10 minutes, no more than 15 minutes.
In the unlikely event that watermelon rind is unavailable, masak titik recipes on the internet have yielded variations with winter melon, old cucumber, green papaya and white radish, which you may use as a substitute. However, that will take away the novelty of cooking with watermelon rinds, which was what drew me to this recipe in the first place.
You may also substitute prawns with dried shrimp, salted fish bones or anchovies. And by all means, if you find five pods of chilli padi too spicy, you may reduce the amount or leave them whole without cutting them open.
- For rempah titik:
- 30g shallots, cut into quarters
- 10g toasted belacan
- 100g prawn flesh
- For prawn stock:
- 1 tbsp cooking oil
- 200g prawn heads and shells
- 1 litre cold water
- 5 white peppercorns, crushed
- 300g watermelon rind
- 5 birdʼs eye chillies, slit lengthwise
- ¼ tsp salt to taste
- Separate the heads and shells from 300g of fresh prawns. Set aside prawn meat for rempah titik.
- To make prawn stock, heat the oil in a heavy bottom pot to fry the prawn heads and shells until aromatic, about 5-10 minutes.
- Add water and bring to a boil for 5 minutes before lowering the heat to simmer the stock for another 20 minutes. Strain the stock before using.
- Peel off the outer green skin from the watermelon rind. Cut out the flesh, leaving about half to one centimetre of red attached. Cut the white watermelon rind into cubes of about 3 centimetres.
- Pound the shallots, toasted belacan and prawn meat in a pestle and mortar until coarsely mashed.
- Bring the strained prawn stock back to a boil, then add the rempah titik ingredients and peppercorns.
- Continue to simmer for 10 minutes until the soup is aromatic.
- Add the watermelon rind and chillies, and simmer for about 10 minutes until the rind turns slightly translucent. Turn off heat and serve hot with a fresh grind of white pepper.