MASAK titik is a Peranakan dish that is peculiar 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 published by The Star in 2003, does not appear on the menus of Peranakan restaurants and is now seldom prepared even in Straits Chinese homes.
It is hard to ascertain how the name masak titik, sometimes spelled titek, came about.
Some Malay recipes would call for hard spices such as candlenut to be titik or ketuk, which means to pound.
Titik literally means to point or to drop, which suggests it could refer to titis, water droplets.
This soup really opens up your appetite. The piquant spiciness of the cili padi and robust saltiness of belacan complement the cool watermelon rind so well that you would not want to waste a drop.
The Penang Peranakan are known for their frugalness and they extract every bit of flavour from each ingredient.
Frying the prawn heads and shells not only adds another layer of flavour, but also creates jewels of red oil that float on the soup.
The texture of the food is also very important to the Peranakans and they achieve this here by pounding the prawns with shallots and toasted belacan. Make sure you do not 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 for only about 10 minutes.
In the 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 rind.
You may also substitute prawns with dried shrimp, salted fish bones or anchovies.
And by all means, if you find five pods of cili padi too spicy, reduce the number used or leave them whole without cutting them open.
Masak titik (watermelon skin soup)
30g shallots, cut into quarters
10g toasted belacan
100g prawn flesh
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-bottomed pot to fry the prawn heads and shells until aromatic, about 5 to 10 minutes.
Add water and bring to boil for 5 minutes before lowering the heat and simmer the stock for another 20 minutes. Strain the stock before using.
Peel off the outer green skin of the watermelon rind. Cut out the flesh, leaving about half to one centimetre of red flesh attached. Cut the white watermelon rind into cubes of about 3cm.
Pound the shallots, toasted belacan and prawn meat in a mortar until coarsely mashed.
Bring the strained prawn stock back to the 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 the heat and serve hot with freshly ground white pepper.