What Is Mambo Sauce?

When most people hear the word mambo, they usually think of the popular Cuban dance music. Or they think of the song that defined 1999, Lou Bega’s “Mambo No. 5.” But if you’re from Washington DC, you just might think of a sauce. That’s right, mambo (or mumbo) sauce is a beloved tradition in the nation’s capital.  But what’s mambo sauce? What does mambo sauce taste like? What flavor is mambo sauce? What’s in mambo sauce? Is mambo sauce spicy? Let’s try to get that little bit of Monica off our minds and concentrate on the question: What is mambo sauce?

What is mambo sauce?

Mambo sauce, also known as mumbo sauce, is a sweet, spicy, tangy, and sour sauce that’s popular in Washington DC. Mambo sauce has long been the go-to condiment at local takeaway restaurants in DC’s historically black neighborhoods. Mambo sauce is used on everything from fried rice and fried chicken to french fries and seafood. 

Over the years, the sauce has proliferated all over the city, showing up in fancy versions at higher end restaurants, and is now a point of civil pride. McDonald’s even introduced their own version of a mambo sauce for a limited time, causing even more people than usual to ask, “What’s mambo sauce?” While all DC residents know about mambo sauce, there’s still some mystery as to why it’s called that and even where it came from. Many insist that mambo sauce started at a DC restaurant called Wings-n-Things in the late 1960s. However, there’s also evidence pointing to mambo sauce being invented in Chicago in the 1950s and transplanting to DC.

What does mambo sauce taste like?

Let’s get to the important stuff. What flavor is mambo sauce? Mambo sauce has a bright contrast of flavors. Mambo sauce tastes like barbecue sauce but spicier and a little sweeter. The thing is, the flavor, color, and even texture can vary from place to place because there are a lot of different recipes out there. Mcdonald’s described their version as “a tomato-based, sweet, spicy, and vinegary sauce.” 

Is mambo sauce spicy?

Sometimes mambo sauce is pretty mild but sometimes mambo sauce can be downright spicy. Generally, mambo sauce is spicy, sour, and sweet, about the thickness of ketchup, and a shade of red. Some say “the redder the better.”

What’s in mambo sauce?

How do you make mambo sauce? While there are quite a few varieties out there, there are a few staple ingredients. You need some sort of tomato base like tomato puree or ketchup, sour components like vinegar, and something sweet like brown sugar. Occasionally, paprika and hot sauce make it into the mix. Some folks put pineapple juice, lemon, honey, soy sauce, ginger, or sriracha into their mambo sauce. However you make it, the end result is a spicy and tangy sauce that’s kind of like ketchup or barbecue sauce that you can pour over anything to make it tasty. I like to drink mambo sauce straight up while mamboing to “Mambo No. 5.” That may be too much mambo for some, but I like it.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

Thoughts? Questions? Complete disagreement? Leave a comment!

Your thoughts.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *