Photo by Citrat/Wikimedia
It's funny how many people don't like anchovies. I guess it's up there with goat cheese. So many people's first experience with these little fish was by being offered outstandingly bad versions of them that they form their entire opinion from that understandably negative impression. I can't really blame them--there are a lot of bad anchovies out in the world. And it's safe to say the odds are exceedingly high that nearly every anchovy that the average American is likely to have had encountered wasn't a very good one.
There is, of course, a really big difference among anchovies. And a great deal of the difference has to do, not shockingly, with the quality of the raw fish. You don't have to be an expert to figure out that if you start with South American anchovies (rather than the far more highly prized ones from Cantabria or the Mediterranean), pay less-than-top-of-the-market prices to get something subpar (because "no one will notice"), and aren't fanatical about freshness, the resulting anchovy just ain't gonna taste too good. Period.
Northern Spain, by contrast, is one of the anchovy capitals of the world. I ate more good anchovies in a week on a recent trip there than I probably have in any week of my anchovy-eating life. It didn't hurt that we got to spend a day with the Ortiz family, who are, pretty much without question, the kings of the anchovy world. The Ortiz family buys only spring anchovies--there is a fall season but the fish's fat is different and the cured anchovies don't taste as good. And they buy the best fish they can get on the docks, purchasing them early in the morning (anchovy-fishing happens at night). They're immediately gutted and put under salt.