A friend took me to “Mid-Atlantic Seafood” restaurant in Laurel (the food and prices quickly earned an enthusiastic “Thumbs Up!” from me but that’s another post! <Wink>) Going up to the condiments bar, there were items like cocktail sauce and tartar sauce that I’d expect to see at a seafood restaurant but but there was a totally unexpected item labeled “Mumbo” (no more, no less – just “Mumbo”…)
Mumbo??? What kind of Mumbo-Jumbo is this? What the heck is “Mumbo” ? Another customer who was grabbing condiments for himself noticed my hesitation. He smiled. “Mumbo? that’s good stuff!”. Well, with an intro like that I had to give it a try. I confess that pumped some into a little cup and licked some off the end of my finger. Interesting stuff, that Mumbo! I liked it! It’s thinner and smoother textured than standard cocktail sauce. The Mumbo was not overly sweet, but tangy and with a bit of a kick to it (more akin to a Thai chili sauce)
I was intrigued enough to later check out wikipedia. Gosh darn! They had a whole article about it. There seems to be a good amount of controversy over the origins of Mumbo.
In greater DC, its a condiment that shows up in a lot of places that sell fried fish and/or chicken wings. Chinese restaurants and take-outs place around the city reportedly have their own custom versions of mumbo sauce. DC folks swear of course that it’s their own special creation which is so good that it could have only been thought of there. There’s a local DC-based company, Capital City Co., that asserts that their mumbo sauce, “The Flavor of DC”, “originated during the late 1960’s from Wing-n-Things, an African American owned chicken wing restaurant located on 7th and Florida Ave NW”. I can’t say for sure (because I haven’t had the opportunity to ask…) but I suspect that “mumbo” that I tasted at Mid-Atlantic Seafood in Laurel (which after-all is suburb of DC) is probably concocted by the Asian staff which runs that place.
My friend Fred, a Chicago native, challenged me when I was babbling my discovery of Mumbo to him and asserted that it really was a Chicago creation that had migrated to DC. I started doing some serious research and found out that Wikipedia among several other sources on the net agrees with Fred and indicates a man from Chicago, Argia B. Collins, invented Mumbo sauce back around 1950 (almost 20 years before it popped up in DC). Note: Despite “Capital Cities” use of “mumbo” for the sauce that they market, “MUMBO” is a registered trademark of Select Brands LLC (which continues to sell “Agria B’s Mumbo sauce in three flavor variations and you can even buy it online – they market a 64 oz jug of the stuff for $32).
In contrast to promotion in DC where mumbo is associated mostly with fried chicken or fish, Argia B’s was created to go with southern style ribs and Bar-B-Que.
Here’s some additional advertising for Argia B’s Mumbo sauce which I’m guessing dates from the late 1950s or early 1960s:
Mumbo has become quite the thing with fans of hip hop, go-go and rap in DC. A local DC music group called “Mambo Sauce” (one of many variations of “Mumbo”) curiously adds an image of downtown Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to their write up about their “indigenous sound of DC”
And yet another DC band, Soulful!, features a song about Mumbo on the cover of their CD…
Why once you get to try it, you may find that you become a proponent of “Mumbo Sauce on EVERYTHING!”