My Citizens! Few things make the palate of the Suzerain of Spice sizzle more than a garnishing condiment redolent of sweet, spicy and sour – especially one with a uniquely hyper-local presence! This recipe for mambo sauce has a pedigree created and protected jealously by the African-American community of our Nation’s capitol city. In Washington D.C., mambo sauce is a fixture at every takeout joint in town – and many sit-down establishments as well! Just DON’T call it BBQ sauce, please!
Even more importantly, do NOT get into the holy war as to whether mambo sauce was invented in D.C. or Chicago (where it is known as mild sauce) – that is a losing argument almost certainly guaranteed to end poorly for you as an out-of-towner / carpetbagger. Mambo sauce is a unique and delicious condiment that can make even an old sneaker taste delicious – this, I promise!
Mambo sauce (aka mumbo sauce) is a condiment developed and popularized at take-out restaurants in Washington, D.C.. The red-orange sauce is similar to barbecue sauce, but somewhat sweeter, and also somewhat spicier or more sour. (There is some variation in flavor and consistency.) It is put onto fried chicken wings, french fries, fried jumbo shrimp, and fried rice. The origin and ingredients of Mumbo sauce are subject to great dispute.
It is often compared to Chicago mild sauce, found at take-out restaurants in that city’s predominantly Black neighborhoods. The trademark Mumbo name was first used by Argia B. Collins Sr., for use in connection with a barbecue sauce he developed for his Chicago restaurant. Since at least as early as 1950, Mr. Collins and his business used this trademark, and his successor-in-interest, Select Brands, LLC, registered the trademark with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 25, 1999.
The Mumbo trademark has been used for sauces, and appears on labels as part of the phrase Mumbo® Sauce. Some people have used the term “Mumbo Sauce” in articles, internet blogs and advertisements for their sauce products, in connection with a sauce said to have originated in Washington, DC Chinese restaurants used on chicken wings, French fries, and fried rice. Select Brands has challenged such uses as incorrect and as potential infringements of its Mumbo trademark.
However, according to Capital City Mumbo Sauce, the sauce originated in a restaurant called “Wings-n-Things” in the late 1960s. Since Argia’s Mumbo Sauce can be traced back to the 1950s (before it showed up at Wings-N-Things) it’s speculated that the DC version is a transplanted version of the original Chicago sauce. Recently, after two years of court battles, the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board found that a D.C.-based company could not take the name from its Chicago founder.
In 2018, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser drew national attention when she called mambo sauce “annoying” in a Facebook post. She also questioned whether it was “quintessential” DC. Her comments sparked controversy, while her spokesperson said that her remarks were meant to liven Thanksgiving discussions.
On October 9, 2023, popular fast-food chain McDonald’s released their own version of mambo sauce as a limited time offering in their US locations (and for the record – it’s delicious!). Alongside the dipping sauce’s release, they hosted a media campaign pairing with multiple content creators to promote the product, as well as developing a short YouTube documentary covering the sauce’s history.
This uniquely DC delicacy (despite Chicago’s legal ownership of the name) is closely related to Go-Go music, a funky regional music style that blends rhythm, blues and early hip-hop. This genre of music was inspired by artists such as Chuck Brown, Trouble Funk, Junk Yard Band, E.U. and Rare Essence, just to name a few. Chicken wings with mambo sauce can be enjoyed any time of the day, but they have always been a late night D.C. favorite after a hard night of partying at the Go-Go.
As noted in this excellent (excerpted and re-arranged) article from salon.com:
And that connection between mumbo sauce and Black culture in Washington endures. In 2008, the go-go band Mambo Sauce reached the Billboard hip hop/R&B music charts with their song “Welcome to D.C.” Grammy Award-winner Christylez Bacon performs a song about the sauce. To show your allegiance to the city, you can buy a T-shirt that says “Mambo Sauce, Go-Go & Half-Smokes.”
The sauce also inspired a new generation of Black entrepreneurs. In 2011, Arsha Jones, a Washington-native founded Capital City Mumbo Sauce. She had grown up with the sauce, getting it from area staples like Jerry’s Carry Out. Once she moved to the suburbs, she started making it at home to give her family “a real taste of D.C.” It was good enough that she decided to bottle and sell it, which she proceeded to do with the help of her late husband Charles.
Just two months after they launched the business, the couple woke to a Sunday edition of The Washington Post with their faces on the front page — and 1,400 orders overnight.
“We were determined to get every order out, even if it took us two weeks,” Arsha told The Washingtonian.
<For the Chicago sauce> Argia B. Collins was born in Indianola, Miss., in 1926. He was the twelfth child of his parents Elizabeth and Harvey. They were a farming family and one of the few Black families in their community who actually owned the land they worked (plus one of the few families — Black or white — who actually owned an automobile in Indianola).
Watching his father manage his own farm made Collins realize that he someday wanted to be his own boss. “He had always wanted to be in business for himself,” his wife Susie told the Chicago Tribune after his death in 2003.”He always had a desire and drive. He was always searching for new ideas.”
That dream came true in the early ’50s, when Collins moved to Chicago and opened his first barbecue restaurant, which he managed until his retirement in 1992. It was there where he developed his signature Argia B’s Mumbo Bar-B-Que Sauce.
“People kept asking for it in the barbecue house, so he decided he would start bottling it,” his daughter Misty recalled.
Mumbo sauce also literally fueled the civil rights movement of the ’60s. As the Chicago Tribune reported, Collins often served a young Rev. Jesse Jackson and other organizers of Operation Breadbasket — a predecessor of Operation Push — for free at Argia B’s Bar-B-Q. Collins eventually expanded his mumbo empire, while simultaneously spurring the Black business movement. He opened two more restaurants and began supplying area grocery chains, such as Jewel and Dominick’s and A&P.
“These products have never been allowed display space before,” Rev. Jackson said of Collins’ sauce.”They were so good, they just began to move to the general market.”
After Collins’ death, Select Brands — which had been bottling his sauce for decades and filed a trademark for the term “Mumbo Sauce” back in 1958 — continued production.
Most Mambo sauce recipes are very close to a standard BBQ sauce, and it is true the sauce hits similar flavor notes. Mine, however, is quite unique in its spicing and artistic layering of different taste profiles – a hallmark of every TFD recipe! Ketchup is the backbone of any good Mambo sauce, and mine is no different. I loathe Heinz ketchup for its cloying sweetness, however – and as such, I call for a far better brand (and flavors!) to make My supreme and ultimate version!
I love the Judge Casey’s brand of artisinal ketchup, but it’s frequently out-of-stock. Failing that, try the British Tipton ketchup brand – they’re both my go-to daily ketchup brands in place of the recently-discontinued and mourned Sir Kensington brand that was my previous go-to – you can buy Tipton’s from here. I also have come to adore the artisanal brand of curry ketchup, again from the two good Irish lads at Judge Casey’s – their curry ketchup adds a fantastic layer of spice that floats ethereally across the palate. You can buy it direct from their website here and I can’t recommend it strongly enough! 😀
I also use some palm sugar to equalize the sweetness from the “bass note” sweetness profile of the dark brown sugar – this is My go-to brand. Some soy sauce adds both umami and needed saltiness – and this double fermented American soy sauce from Kentucky is a revelation, please use it if you can! Valentina’s hot sauce is the most balanced source of heat for this recipe, please try to use it if possible – you can buy it from here.
Kampot white peppercorns are the finest of their kind in the world – I find white pepper harmonizes best with this recipe as opposed to black peppercorns. You can purchase the good stuff from here. In homage to the African-American origins of mambo sauce, I have opted to use a rare spice from Africa to provide a peppry punch that has its own unique flavor overtones. I speak of nothing less than Grains of Selim, which you can purchase from here. Remove the seeds from the pods before grinding.
I also love the sweeter notes of black garlic powder as opposed to regular – and this is an excellent brand. Lastly, I love the oniony hit of flavor provided courtesy of powdered dried wild ramps – here is a great source, just grind them to a powder in a clean spice grinder. All the other ingredients are probably in your pantry already!
Citizens, this is a magnificent recipe and assuredly will become just as integral to your dining pleasure as it is in D.C. – I hope you enjoy my luxe version of an important hyper-local condiment that deserves better recognition! Thanks to McDonald’s, mambo sauce now has achieved the national recognition it so richly deserves! 😀
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
We are sorry that this post was not useful for you!
Let us improve this post!
Tell us how we can improve this post?