“Eggs are in my top five foods,” my husband says one morning as he dips a corner of buttered toast into the bubbled orange yolk of his fried egg.

“Oh?” I say, wrinkling my nose. “You have a top five foods? What are the rest of them?”

I return to the newspaper, tap my foot against the kitchen table and wait, impatiently, as he considers.

I can get crabby about lists (they’re so artificial!), and yet I jump in with the best of them. Want to know my favorite movies of all time, best albums of 2010, most memorable places I’ve visited? I can put something together. Just give me a minute.

And since this list is about food, and since Kevin is so earnest, I hear him out as he calmly talks through his top five. After eggs, he includes anchovies, a food he introduced me to one afternoon in his old University Parkway apartment, and then smoked fish, another food we both love and can make a meal of. Then he adds cheese, covering the whole spectrum of salty to smoky to creamy, and apricots (though he doesn’t distinguish that said apricots ought to be “chocolate covered,” a treat we both covet).

It is a good list, elegant and quirky, suggesting a wide-ranging palate. Strangely enough, with the exception of the cheese and the eggs, there’s a good chance that none of the other foods passed Kevin’s lips during an Iowa childhood. They are foods he’s picked up along the way that have taken him farther and farther from home.

When I stop to consider my five favorite foods, the results are more pedestrian. I come up with oysters prepared any way, a medium rare hamburger, preferably with bleu cheese and french fries. After that, it gets harder. Do I include apple pie or something chocolate, like Wockenfuss dark chocolate almond bark? I think about things I adore that I associate with other people, like my mother’s mother’s coddies and my father’s mother’s pirogis. And then what about the basics, like a good loaf of bread? I cannot decide.

Both intrigued and stymied by this exercise, I put the question to family members, friends and colleagues, and discover an incredible culinary landscape, wide ranging and delicious. Over stuffed pork chops and roasted potatoes at a friend’s dinner party, the answers are pure comfort food. Mashed potatoes, Steve offers. Macaroni and cheese, says Bonnie. Pasta and pizza follow fast and furious. Nobody, says Michael, will say broccoli.

Not so fast. Restaurateur John Shields can’t leave crabcakes and Utz’s potato chips (a guilty pleasure, he says) off a list that also includes hummus, applesauce and… wait for it… broccoli. And it’s no surprise that Elaine Eff, co-director of Maryland Traditions and the force behind the designation of Smith Island Cake as our official state dessert, immediately chooses the 10-layer dessert for her list.  But she also includes Samos’ dolmades, a dish that got her through graduate school, she says, and coffee ice cream, something she has loved since childhood.

Some folks have items on their lists that speak to a nostalgia for home. Jonathan Palevsky, program director for 91.5 FM WBJC (and a Montreal native), includes poutine and Montreal bagels, lighter and sweeter than New York-style, in his list of favorites. Farid Salloum, of Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen in Locust Point, has a list that reflects his Middle Eastern background (kibbeh nayeh), his years in Baltimore (steamed crabs) and the Carvel franchise his father owned when Farid was a boy (ice cream).

Farid argues that certain foods, while delicious, can’t be in a list of favorites. “Beets aren’t top five material,” he tells me when I mention how much I love them. But what makes beets less appealing than the peaches, cherries and green peas in Justin’s, a Baba employee’s, list? And isn’t it interesting, I muse aloud to Lucien Walsh, wine director of The Wine Market, how some lists, like his— french fries, oysters, tomatoes, eggs and chocolate mousse— contain as many items that can be ingredients in other dishes as well as specific dishes in and of themselves? Is this because he is an accomplished cook, I wonder? He’s too modest to answer, but I bet that’s so.

I also found out that some people are so serious about their food loves, they go to great lengths (besides eating) to celebrate them (I’m looking at you and your cheeseburger tattoo, Jeff Smith of Lauraville’s Chameleon Café).

When I get right down to it, however, the lists cover a lot of food territory, from tacos, bratwurst and Asian noodle soups (from the Brewer’s Art’s Volker Stewart) to homemade popcorn and anything at the local diner a friend and his son frequent after Little League games. Folks love asparagus and peaches, hummus and dumplings, chocolate cake— and just about any kind of barbecue.  If there is a hands-down winner in my informal survey, it’s pizza, although ice cream, to no surprise, is another crowd pleaser. And this makes sense, since both connote celebration and good times and can be varied to suit individual tastes (anchovies! pistachios!).

Before ending my survey, I solicit one more list, this from my 2-year-old niece, Grace. With a little help from my sister, Grace identifies three favorites— pizza, cheese and limey (aka, lima) beans— and three things, much to her aunt’s dismay, that she doesn’t like: onions, chocolate and potatoes. If I were a betting gal, I’d wager that within a few years, lima beans and chocolate will switch lists. Time will tell.

Apricot and Almond Tart

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