Like historic landmarks, many American cities have a food staple they’re known for across the country. Nashville has its iconic hot chicken. Everyone knows that St. Louis has some of the best Chinese takeout and a trip to NYC would be incomplete without a slice of the city’s style of pizza. However, two cities have long argued over who holds ownership over a world-famous sauce.  

Mumbo sauce is a sweet and spicy delicacy that tastes good on pretty much anything. From fried chicken to fish n’ chips, the sauce adds an extra flair to food that is satisfying and fulfilling. According to The Chicago Tribune, it originated in Chicago in 1957. From there, the sauce made its way into the kitchens of restaurants in Washington DC in the 1960s. 

Feuds about the birthplace of mumbo sauce have fueled legal battles between parties in both cities. Now, McDonalds is partnering with culinary experts in both cities to bring the sauce to locations across the country. However, despite arguments about origins, enjoying mumbo sauce at restaurants is a gastronomic selling point for Black travelers visiting both Washington DC and Chicago.

Chicago, IL

chicken wings with mumbo sauce
Photo credit: Meraj Kazi

Originally named “mumbo,” the now-famous sauce began with a Black man who’d traveled from Mississippi to Chicago. His name was Argia B. Collins and, after working in grocery stores across West Chicago, aspired to open his own restaurant. Along with his five brothers, Collins opened a barbeque joint that would become known for its remarkable sauce.

“The word was out.  MUMBO became the sauce for discriminating palates, and Argia B’s Bar-B-Q restaurants became a must-visit destination for barbecue lovers from across the country,” it reads on the Mumbo Sauce website. 

Black people began traveling to Chicago to get a taste of Collins’ mumbo sauce. It was tangy and sweet with hints of spice and folks would bring jars to collect sauce to take home for more good eating. As the sauce grew in notoriety in Chicago, somehow it made its way to Washington DC where it began to be popularized across the country.

Washington, DC

Mumbo became mumbo once it reached Washington DC. Today, many still refute the claims that the sauce originated in DC. However, no one can deny the impact the city had on popularizing the sauce worldwide. 

Mumbo sauce came alive in Washington DC. From the moment it reached the city, it became a staple. According to Arsha Jones of Capital City Mumbo Sauce, the sauce’s recipe in DC was a little different than in Chicago. 

While the Windy City’s formula was thinner and designed as more of a marinade for barbecue meats, DC’s mumbo sauce had a thicker consistency with the same tangy sweetness. The ingredient switch-up took the sauce’s flavors beyond Black-owned restaurants and into other cultures. In DC, the sauce could be found everywhere from fried chicken joints to Korean restaurants. 

In 2013, Jones lost a legal battle against the original trademark owner of mumbo sauce. According to Culture Trip, the courts decided DC businesses could not use the term “mumbo.” Jones changed the company name to Capital City Mambo Sauce. However, the name change and legal woes didn’t deter Black travelers from seeking out the sauce whenever they visited the country’s capital city.

Mumbo Sauce For All

french fries with side of mumbo sauce
Photo credit: Valeria Boltneva

Today, mumbo sauce can be seen represented in many spaces including sports, culture, and travel. Basketball star Kevin Durant rocked custom sneakers in NBA games inspired by the famous sauce in the early 2000s. Musicians from both Chicago and DC have mentioned the sauce in songs and more Americans will experience mumbo sauce through McDonalds’ latest campaign. 

Whether it came from Chicago or Washington DC, mumbo sauce has proven to be a staple in Black communities for decades. With two destinations to pick from, travelers have options when it comes to determining where they’ll visit for an authentic mumbo sauce experience.