Monday, October 3, 2011

Cape Mom's Magic Mumbo Sauce

Over the summer, I opened up the local section of the Washington Post to find an article about someone I know - a fellow Caper. It was a lengthy one about a local DC condiment called mumbo sauce. Despite living in DC for two years and within thirty miles of the city for my entire adult life, I had never heard of mumbo sauce. I was too busy starting a career and then a family to stop and immerse myself more deeply in the real DC (just one of the things I would go back and tell my younger self to do).

When I say the real DC, I'm not talking the exclusive streets of Georgetown or the power brokering K Street corridor but the REAL DC - the DC where people are born and raised and live their lives. DC culture is less touted than in other great US cities, perhaps because of the District's unrealized statehood ambitions and the consuming distraction of being the seat of federal government. Also, the accelerating gentrification of the city is eating up and pushing out much of the authentic diversity of the local scene. The rich homegrown traditions and innovative local music and arts communities persist, however, for those who know it as their hometown.

Fellow Caper, Arsha Jones, is someone who can tell you a thing or two about the "real" DC. She is DC born and raised. I first met Arsha just after volunteering to take over the Cape St. Claire Elementary School website. As interested as I was in working with the website, I didn't know squat about web design. I learned enough from the previous webmaster to maintain the existing site, but I had no real clue what I was doing.

Arsha approached me at one of our PTO meetings and introduced herself. Her oldest was just entering kindergarten at Cape Elementary. She was an accomplished web designer by profession, and she offered to help revamp the website using up-to-date tools that were more powerful and easier to maintain. I couldn't believe my luck. Her energy and expertise had dropped right into my lap - both greatly needed and appreciated. I owe what little I have learned about blogging and website creation to her patient tutelage.

When I opened up the Post last July, I immediately recognized the name and photo of Arsha in the article about mumbo sauce. Somehow in her free time between raising three very young kids (with another on the way), working as a web designer, and blogging, she had started making, marketing, and selling her own mumbo sauce. I get dizzy just thinking about it. Her energy and entrepreneurial spirit simply amaze me. Her product is sold under the name Capital City Mumbo Sauce.

Arsha selling her Capital City Mumbo Sauce
at DC's Eastern Market in Capitol Hill

I won't retell her full story or the background of mumbo sauce here since it's told better by the actual reporter who got paid to write it in the Washington Post Article. When I finished reading it, I went straight to the computer and ordered myself a bottle of her mumbo concoction. It arrived in my mailbox soon after, and I used it that evening to smother a dish of baked chicken for dinner. My family happily licked their fingers through the meal and declared it "yummy!".

As Arsha says on her website, the flavor and consistency fall somewhere between barbeque and sweet and sour sauce. It would make a great glaze for pork chops or ribs and sets off especially well against salty flavors. While we thoroughly enjoyed it on our baked chicken, from what I understand, the true calling of Mumbo Sauce is as a coating for chicken wings or fried chicken - DC's answer to buffalo sauce.  That is what makes mumbo sauce aficionados swoon.

You know those tastes that we grow up with and are acutely linked to our memories of a place? For me, the flavors of my childhood revolve around the mexican food of the California central valley or the southern dishes of the Carolina low country. We love them because they are delicious but also in large part because of the fond attachment we have to their place in our upbringing.

Mumbo sauce is one of those flavors or even THE flavor for folks who grew up in the African American community of DC. Arsha has quickly tapped into a sentimental market of DC expatriates who are overjoyed to have access to their beloved mumbo sauce. Just take a look at the testimonials on the website to get a feel for the meaning of this sauce to people who know it and the various ways it is used.

I highly recommend getting a bottle or two or three of this sauce for yourselves. The sweetness of it might be an acquired taste for anyone who did not grow up with it, but I acquired it pretty darn fast. The vinegar and very slight bite of heat from cayenne put it over the top for me. I expect you will find myriad ways to apply it to your own favorite foods. If for no other reason, it's worth trying just to add to your database of knowledge about local cuisine, and even more importantly, to support a hard-working local Cape wife and mother of four who is enterprising enough to start a new business.

Best of luck to Arsha on this new venture! I know she's rapidly acquiring a cult following. I am feeling some mumbolicious inspiration for tonight's dinner plan myself. As I type on my now sticky computer keyboard, I am dipping Utz Party Mix into a dish of bright red Capital City Mumbo Sauce...mmmmm.

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