Cville’s restaurant scene would not be complete without mentioning Lu-Mei Chang. She was born & raised in Xiamen, Fujian, a sub-provincial city in southeastern Fujian, China, beside the Taiwan Strait.
Lu-Mei immigrated to NYC in 1980 with her parents when she was 18 yrs old and while there she went to art school where she studied classical late 17th/18th European Art. She was very interested in pigments and chemicals, relating them to how spices are to ingredients in cooking.
Lu-Mei came to Charlottesville in the mid-80’s and worked at Eastern Standard (where the Bebedero is now), and also helped Tokyo Rose, working alongside Toshi Sato (Now & Zen) and Atsushi Miura (the original Tokyo Rose), Tennessee Waltz near UVA, and even the Blue Bird (next to where Maya is).
In 1992, Lu-Mei opened the 1st Monsoon restaurant (serving Thai/Chinese) located in what was called the Exchange Center (where Downtown Grill was). It started out as a lunch only spot so she could have a job during the day while her daughter was in daycare/school and be with her at night. She mentioned how hard it was to find ingredients for her dishes, where she had to travel to DC and Richmond often, even New York, as Charlottesville didn’t have our Asian markets yet nor were many Asian food distributors delivering here either.
People kept asking her to open for dinner so in 1998 she bought the old house on West Market St. and moved Monsoon there. She later sold it to Kit Ashi in the late 2012. Coming full circle, Lu-Mei leased the back side of the building to her old friend, Toshi who owns Now & Zen sushi. Many people often call that building “Asian Corner,” due to the popularity of both restaurants. She says they are like a family together on that block.
You may see Lu-Mei helping both Kit & Toshi bring in their supplies or walking around downtown. She’s also been known to fix iPhone screens as a hobby. A mother and now grandmother, she is definitely a one of Charlottesville’s food scene OG’s.
Lu-Mei’s top 5 must-have Asian ingredients in her kitchen:
– Shiitake mushrooms
– Rice flour