Mumbo sauce, also called mambo sauce, is a type of condiment that mostly is served in and around Washington, D.C. Although there are many variations, it generally has the characteristics of a sweet and sour sauce that has been married with a barbecue sauce or hot sauce. The condiment often is served with foods that have been fried, barbecued or smoked, especially chicken. The regional nature of the sauce, as well as its popularity within Washington, D.C., has led to the development of several commercially available products, some of which are produced by local restaurants in the area that make the sauce on a daily basis. The origins of mumbo sauce are unclear, although it is at least several decades old, with some stories attributing its creation — and a related registered trademark — to a barbecue restaurant in Chicago and others saying its roots are in restaurants in Washington, D.C.
Practically all restaurants that serve mumbo sauce keep their recipes a proprietary secret, making it difficult for people to assemble the sauce at home. Some ingredients that the various sauces might contain include ketchup, paprika, a vinegar-based hot sauce and sugar. After the sauce started to become popular in the Washington area, it was adopted by restaurants that served other types of cuisine, most notably Chinese restaurants that adjusted the mumbo sauce so it better combined with the Asian food being served. As time progressed, the sauce evolved and started to incorporate many elements so some mumbo sauces included ginger and other spices, although these sometimes have a distinctly different taste from what is considered to be the original sauce.
Although the exact ingredients in any mumbo sauce are unknown, one approximation has been noted to capture the flavor very closely. This involves mixing equal amounts of sugar and ketchup with paprika, vinegar, vinegar-based hot sauce and water. This creates a sweet sauce that has some acidity and heat. The mixture is glossy and somewhat thick, although some accounts state that the original sauce had a much thinner texture and resembled more of a simple mixture of ketchup, hot sauce and vinegar.
In restaurants, mumbo sauce may be served poured over fried chicken, barbecued ribs, fried rice and other Asian dishes. It frequently is served in small cups so it can be used as a dipping sauce for finger foods such as egg rolls and French fries. The sauce also can be found in bottles or other containers so it can be poured on sandwiches in a style similar to other condiments. Commercially, Mumbo® Sauce is a registered trademark of Select Brands LLC.