The Best Meal in Iceland Is a Life-Changing Tomato Soup
Iceland’s Friðheimar restaurant serves up enlightenment by the bowls.
In a mammoth greenhouse crawling with twisty-turny vines of near-bursting tomatoes lies Friðheimar restaurant, a seed-to-soup wonderland located in Reykholt, Iceland, about an hour east of Reykjavík. When guests arrive at Friðheimar and take in the chaotic rows of vines, their energy is palpable. There’s excited chatter, broad smiles, and glasses raised with tomato-fueled toasts. It’s a special energy, born of impassioned commitment to a singular vision. This permaculture paradise aims to tell the story of Icelandic foodways and environmental responsibility in one, seemingly straightforward dish: all-you-can-eat tomato soup.
In fact, most things at Friðheimar are pretty simple, if you ask chef Jón Sigfússon. That’s his culinary vision and quest.
“It has to be something really, really good—and simple.Very simple,” he says. “I want to use as few ingredients [as possible] in the stuff that I do.”
In 2012, Sigfússon’s devotion to simplicity brought his neighbor, Knútur Rafn Ármann, to his kitchen door. Ármann and his wife, Helena, had developed their farmland into a dual-purpose juggernaut of horse shows and horticulture. Tourists who had come to see their horse shows began to ask if they could get a peek inside the tomato greenhouses. The request became so popular that they launched tours.
Eventually, the husband-and-wife team decided to work with their neighbor to create a one-of-a-kind food experience. “Our dream was that you’d be doing something you’d never done before,” says Ármann.
There was one caveat, though. The menu had to be beautiful, simple, and made from tomatoes.
Luckily, Sigfússon had created exactly this sort of dish two years prior, as a 40th birthday gift to Ármann. And so, Ármann suggested they serve that ethereal birthday soup as the signature dish in their forthcomingrestaurant.
At the time, Sigfússon was preparing for retirement after more than 25 years in professional kitchens, including running his own restaurant in Reykjavík, Matur og Menning, which translates to “food and culture.” However, he couldn’t resist the opportunity to work with his friends and beloved tomatoes, and so, in 2014, Friðheimar began to welcome guests year-round.
Now, Friðheimar is a point of pilgrimage for anyone interested in foodways, Icelandic innovation, and the environment. Sigfússon and Ármann want to provide an excellent meal, of course, but they also want to share their vision of simplicity and sustainability with the world.
“We teach everybody to tell the story,” Ármann says, “because it’s all of our story for the telling. All the guests…[learn] about what is special about Icelandic tomatoes…and then the food tastes a little bit different.”
On any given day, the Friðheimar tale of tomatoes might be told in five or more languages.
“The name of our country, Iceland, doesn’t give any clue that we’d be growing many things,” Ármann says. “So, it surprises [visitors] that we can be picking tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce, sweet peppers, and strawberries all year round… because they know we have long, dark, and cold winters.”
That yearlong cool or cold climate keeps most garden pests away, Ármann says. Iceland also has glacial spring water and powerful geothermal activity underfoot due to the island’s position over two of the Earth’s tectonic plates.
In 2018, BBC Earth Lab filmed a segment in Iceland that explored how all the country’s power comes from clean, renewable sources: 25% from geothermal activity and 75% from hydropower. Friðheimar was featured for its unique use of these natural resources.
“We tell the story of how we can do it with good help from nature,” says Ármann. “We are using the hot water in the ground to heat up our greenhouses [and] we are using the electricity to make sun or light for the plants every day of the year.”
He and Helena now operate ten greenhouses encompassing 36,000 square feet of growing space. Friðheimar produces two tons of tomatoes every day, and 700 tons of tomatoes per year.
Since its 2014 launch, Friðheimar has aimed to introduce one or two new menu items annually. Now, in addition to the signature tomato soup, guests can sip a Healthy Mary, a sparkling digestif elixir of green tomato juice, honey, ginger, and lemon. They can also sample blue mussels in a tomato seafood bath, ravioli, green tomato apple pie, and homemade tomato ice cream.
The soup, however, remains the main attraction. It coats your spoon with comforting viscosity, and gleams with pure tomato flavor. It’s served in large cauldrons alongside sour cream, fresh cucumber salsa, and mounds of rustic loaves of bread crusted with seeds or generously festooned with olives and cheese.
“I don’t like the bread to be like in the bakery, all in the same shape,” says Sigfússon. “So, I want them to look free flowing. The more different they are, the more fun it is.”
Creating bountiful bread to sop up life-changing soup can’t have been easy, and yet Sigfússon claims he didn’t face a great deal of trials along the way.
“Not really,” he says. “That is also very simple. It all happens in my head; I can think ‘taste.’ I can see ‘taste.’ I can see if you have tomatoes and you want to add something to it—‘no, that’s not working’—so I try something different. I can do this in my mind and play with it.”
This playfulness inspired Friðheimar’s tomato beer, the second most popular menu item. Sigfússon collaborated with a brewmaster friend in Reykjavík to develop six tomato beers, and then Friðheimar’s staff helped select the two served at the bar: one red and one green.
If you’re inspired to take a few Instagram snaps while you’re sipping tomato beer or slurping exceptional soup, Sigfússon and Ármann certainly don’t mind. It helps them spread their vision.
“I always say in the kitchen, if I don’t see the people picking up their phone and taking pictures of this, you’re not doing good,” Sigfússon says.
Ármann agrees. “Our dream is that you take your phone and take a picture and then you spread it around the world.”
It’s that simple, really.