Mambo Mania

At first glance, this red condiment which has a thick yet smooth liquidly texture, a sweet and tangy taste comprised mainly of tomato sauce, hot sauce and sugar is thought to be ketchup but it’s actually mambo sauce.

What is mambo sauce?

According to urbandictionary.com mambo sauce is a mysteriously addictive red sauce served with fried chicken wings and fries at Chinese carry-outs in the Washington DC area. For some it is barbeque sauce, for others it’s hot sauce but for many residents in the Washington Metropolitan area their undisputed favorite condiment is mambo sauce.

“Mambo sauce just makes everything taste better, it gives your chicken, french fries or whatever you decided to put it on that something extra,” said Aris Milne, 25, an employee at Wings N’ Wings in NorthWest, DC.

This unique spin-off of the Chinese sweet and sour sauce is comprised of vinegar, water, ketchup, salt, sugar, corn starch, hot sauce and paprika. The distinctive combination of ingredients sends patrons’ taste buds into a sweet and spicy euphoria that has caused many to become instant fans of the sauce.

“I am from Florida and I had never even heard or tasted mambo sauce until I came to school in Washington, DC,” said Sharon Taylor, 23 of Ft. Lauderdale, FL. “It was at Howard University that I had my first encounter with mambo sauce and I have been hooked ever since that first taste.”

Although these are the most commonly found ingredients in mambo sauce there are several versions. Other versions exclude the previous ingredients and include honey, nutmeg, hot sauce, or Worcestershire sauce. Some people have said that mambo sauce is only a mixture of ketchup and Chinese Duck sauce.

“In my opinion Landover Carry-Out in Cheverly, MD, has the best mambo sauce that I have ever had,” said Robert Smith, 22 of Cheverly, MD. “I have had mambo sauce from different carry-outs in the area but they look and taste completely different. Each carry-out has its own take on the sauce but my favorite version of the sauce is that of Landover Carry-Out.”

Landover Carry-Out did not disclose the ingriedients that they use adding that it is a “secret recipe.”

Currently, there is no consensus as to when and where this dipping sauce originated.

Theresa Harris, 57, of Bowie, MD said that she recalls first hearing about mambo sauce in the 1970s and since then it has truly become a staple condiment in the District.

The electrifyingly delicious sauce is spelled at least two different ways: “mambo” and “mumbo” as it is pronounced.

Mambo sauce is generally eaten with fried chicken wings purchased at Chinese carry-out restaurants in urban neighborhoods within the District. Some carry-outs charge customers for mambo sauce while others give it away like packages of ketchup.

Some Washingtonians order mambo sauce on their chicken wings. Once the chicken wings are prepared the chef slowly pours mambo sauce over the pieces of chicken. The wings become drenched in the sugary-sweet, zesty red sauce. The chicken wings transform in color from a golden brown to tomato red.

Others tend to request that mambo sauce be placed on the side.

“My son loves to have mambo sauce poured all over his wings,” said Merika Smith, 43 of Cheverly, MD. “I tend to request it on the side because I don’t really care to have my wings mushy from them being drenched in mambo sauce.”

Mambo sauce is not limited only to chicken wings but is used as a complementary sauce for fried fish, hotdogs, hamburgers, steaks and cheese subs.

“Instead of using ketchup on my french fries I use mambo sauce,” said Richard Melvern, a frequent patron of Landover Carry-Out in Landover, MD.

Mambo sauce is famous in DC but remains a well-kept secret beyond District lines.

“I have grown up in Baltimore all of my life, which is only like a 30-minute car ride from DC and I have no clue as to what mambo sauce is,” said Brandon Smith, 23, of Baltimore.

The popular sauce is not bottled or sold in grocery stores in or out of the Metropolitan area.