Mumbo Sauce Is DC's Best Kept Secret

If nothing else, mumbo sauce just sounds plain fun to eat. But it's also absolutely delicious, and many in the district of Washington D.C. would be quick to agree — while very much under the radar throughout most of the U.S., the condiment has become somewhat of a staple at D.C. restaurants over the years.

There's some debate over its origins, but mumbo sauce is believed to have arrived in D.C. by way of Chicago. Also known as mambo sauce, it's turned into one of the city's best-kept secrets. But if you're in on the secret, you know there are plenty of establishments where you'll find this sauce on the menu, from wing shops to Chinese takeout restaurants.

While the flavorful sauce is usually served drizzled (or, more often, doused) over crispy chicken wings, it can also be found accompanying items like sweet potato pie, fried rice, and more. If you've never heard of it before, it's time to change that.

What's in mumbo sauce and what does it taste like?

A relative of barbecue sauce, the sticky, orange-red mumbo sauce is a little sweeter and can often be a lot spicier — it's almost like a spicy, flavor-packed sweet, and sour sauce. What gives mumbo sauce its unique flavor is a masterful blend of ingredients.

A base of ketchup and vinegar is blended with sweet things like white or brown sugar, honey, and pineapple juice to balance the sauce — while hot sauce and ingredients like cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, ginger, and sometimes even habanero pepper extract kick up the spice level. Meanwhile, the inclusion of soy in some recipes adds a layer of umami to the sauce.

In the end, all of the ingredients come together to create a triple threat: A condiment that's sweet, spicy, and tangy all at once (its sweetness and spiciness levels tend to vary based on the restaurant's recipe). The condiment typically has a thick, glaze-like consistency, which is why it works so well on fried foods and Chinese cuisine.

The many ways to enjoy mumbo sauce

There's no question that fried chicken wings and mumbo sauce were made for each other. But while wings may be the most-used vehicle for the sauce, there are a plethora of ways to enjoy this condiment because it pairs so well with so many different foods.

Throughout D.C., you'll find mumbo sauce at various Chinese takeout and soul food restaurants, lathered over things like french fries, fried chicken or fried shrimp, egg rolls, nachos, chili bowls, and D.C.-style half-smokes. But you can use mumbo sauce pretty much any way that you'd use barbecue or a sweet and sour dipping sauce.

You can pair mumbo sauce with pretty much any type of cooked meat — from pork to chicken to seafood — and you can even cook with it as a marinade. Drizzle it on things like tacos or eggs, use it as a glaze on a rack of ribs, spread it on the bun of a pulled meat or fried seafood sandwich, or simply dip your favorite fried foods into the sweet and spicy stuff.