Facing Olivephobia in Costa Brava

Olives suck.

If there’s one food in the world I dislike… nay, loathe with every nucleus in every cell of my body… it’s olives. They.are.gross. And I just can’t stand them. I am an olivephobe.

When I see the olive bar in the grocery store, I take my cart and walk the long way around. If it sneaks up on me or I can’t avoid it (darn people at Walmart with 5 kids taking up the whole aisle!), I point my eyes skyward and hold my breath as I pass the smorgasbord of multicolored, revolting lumps of formaldehyde. I don’t want olives in my personal space, I don’t want them on my plate, even as superfluous decoration, and if one accidentally makes its way into my mouth – well, let’s just say the ensuing gagging noises and requisite tongue scraping scenarios aren’t pleasant for anyone.

There’s just something about olives that makes me want to run far away to a land where they’ve never even heard of olives. (I couldn’t even source a photo of them to accompany this story – I literally refuse to do a Google image search for them.)

So now you know that deep dark secret about me, and I feel like this confession has brought us a lot closer.

But… there’s something else. Close behind on my relatively short blacklist of foods, is the squirmy, greasy anchovy. It’s strange, because I’ll eat just about anything from the sea – snails, eels, fish eggs, conch and all its aphrodisiacal appendages.

But anchovies, like olives and bad ex-boyfriends, need to stay out of my life.

So you may wonder then, how in the world I managed to be caught smiling – on camera – eating both of these wretched foodstuffs.

On the nightly local news.

In Spain.

Well, here goes.

(An editorial note: I only recount this story with all its truthful culinary detestation because I know there are many more anchovy & olive-lovers than loathers in the world, and that my tale won’t deter anyone from visiting fabulous Costa Brava and partaking in its myriad of mouthwatering local delicacies.)

Costa Brava Anchovy L'Escala

Last year, I was invited to visit Costa Brava by their stellar tourism board, and dutifully I went, soaking up the gorgeous rugged coast, Roman ruins, hot air balloon rides and Salvador Dali sites around the region. We’d spent the night in a sustainable, eco-friendly, and absurdly serene hotel – Hostal Empuries – in the town of L’Escala on the Mediterranean Sea. As we departed the next day, we made a quick stop at the nearby factory where one of Costa Brava’s most famous locally produced delicacies comes from. Gulp.



L’Escala is a salty seaside town of Roman ruins, sandy beaches, coastal dunes and rocky coves. The town’s maritime tradition is one that’s well-respected here, as you can tell from the variety of museums, monuments & cultural points of interest dedicated to fishing, salt, boats and even fishermen’s wives. L’Escala is also renowned for its gastronomic offerings, especially for its anchovies. The famous Anxoves de L’Escala make their way around the world by the ton every year – I bet they’re even in your local grocery store.

(Go look. I’ll wait.)

Anchovy de L'Escala

When visiting Costa Brava, a trip to one of the factories is a must… even for a self-proclaimed anchovy hater like me. Anchovies are a mainstay of the economy and an integral part of the town’s history, so skipping the factory would be missing a huge part of the local experience.


We wandered into the factory, and it exhaled the anticipated pungent tang of a place where millions of oily little fishies are processed by Spanish ladies day in and day out. Before salting the anchovies, the head & guts are removed, and the clean pieces are deposited into jars or cans alternating one layer of fish with a layer of salt, and so on. The anchovies mature with the salt for several months, when they’re then removed and canned or bottled with brine, olive or sunflower oil.

Aside from the smell, what harm could come from a few minutes watching the local ladies filet the tiny anchovies and prep them for canning?

It’s not like I had to eat them or anything… right? RIGHT???

L'Escala Anchovies

As someone who strives to be a real traveler and not just a tourist, I know from experience one of the most important ways to grow and to be challenged is to be open to trying new things. New destinations, new languages, new people and of course, new foods. That’s what makes travel so worthwhile and so valuable. I wish I’d listed every new dish, fruit, taste and smell I added to my internal bucket list in the past 2+ years of traveling, because my mind and palate have both been exposed to so much that’s new and amazing and delicious…


In the front office, the factory folks had kindly and thoughtfully prepared a traditional dish for us to sample before we were on our merry way… and wouldn’t you know, it was olives-flipping-stuffed-with-anchovies. Well, maybe it was anchovies stuffed with olives?

Ehrmagerd, who could even remember a detail like that at a time like this?!

I swallowed the panic down into my stomach, while avoiding eye contact and backing into a corner. I was paying a suspicious amount of attention to the linoleum, hoping that no one would graciously shove the platter of the world’s most abominable food pairing under my nose.

I didn’t want to be rude and refuse, so I did my best to blend in to the background.

Anchovies de L'Escala

As my fellow writers and tourism representatives devoured each morsel, masticating with unreserved delight, a local TV crew who had been shadowing our press trip popped in to shoot some quick b-roll for the nightly news. (As a former travel publicist myself, I know better than most the importance of internal public relations. When working with a destination client, it’s crucial to demonstrate to one’s constituents {re: the people paying the bills/taxes} just how valuable it is to invite journalists and bloggers to one’s destination. So this camera crew was there to show the tourism board’s hard work in action.)

Without warning, there was both a camera and a platter of diabolically allied ingredients just inches from my taste buds.

Panicked on the inside, I faced this defining moment in my travel blogging career with what I consider to be great courage. I could not, would not, let down the unbelievably wonderful tourism folks who’d placed their trust in me to visit their destination and give every opportunity – including food opportunities – a try.

I was not going to be that sour-faced, hard-to-please blogger who refuses all local treats (that tourism officials and restaurateurs work so hard to prepare!) in favor of a suitcase full of stomach friendly saltines.

I grabbed one of those unholy anchovy and olive abominations, put the whole concoction in my mouth, chewed slowly and without retching, and smiled an “Mmmmmm, that’s delicious!” smile for the camera. Somehow, some way… I rallied an internal strength I did not know I had to overcome in the hallowed name of tourism.

I so wish I had the footage of me feigning such a deliciously satisfied expression. I guarantee the Academy would create a new category for Acting While Eating Something Nasty for the 2014 Oscars and I would win it so hard. Guh.

Anchovies de L'ESCALA - Costa Brava, Spain


Whether you like/loathe olives/anchovies, you will most assuredly ADORE Costa Brava, its beaches, mountains, cities, towns, art, castles, ruins and the rest of its food! That I can promise!


SO, are you a lover or a loather of olives / anchovies? Is there some other food that makes you want to leave the room? Have you ever eaten something you hated just to be polite? Tell me!

This post was made possible by the inimitable Costa Brava Tourism Board, who hosted me and fed me food I absolutely loved 99% of the time.  As always, opinions, bad jokes and phobias are my own.

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  • May 22, 2013

    Wow, I don’t know how you did it. I also hate olives and I hate almost all seafood even more. I accidentally ordered a salad in Tajikistan that came piled on top of a plate of anchovies and I couldn’t eat any of it, the smell was so strong and fishy!

    • July 08, 2013

      Yuck! I definitely think it’s the smelly fishyness of it that turns me off. And I don’t like eating anything with a head still attached…

  • May 23, 2013

    Bahahaha! I live in Spain and had to learn to get over just about everything: olives. anchovies. sardines. shrimp. eggs. canned tuna. But you can’t argue that olive oil is liquid gold (that said, I am going to go have a piece of bread drizzled in olive oil).

    • July 08, 2013

      Strangely enough, I LOVE olive oil. I’m pretty sure an overindulgence in that liquid gold is what helped me plump up in Italy… that and the bread and pasta.

  • May 23, 2013

    LOVE olives, HATE anchovies. No way I would have been able to eat the latter. Eeeeek!

    • July 08, 2013

      I really had to put my game face on – and I’m the WORST about wearing all my emotions on my face. I can’t hide my feelings too well!

  • May 23, 2013

    Oh I would have been in heaven on that tour. I love both anchovies and olives! There is not a lot of food I hate though, apart from some gross things I have seen in Asia, such as tarantulas or duck feet.

    • July 08, 2013

      Mmmm tarantulas! Just kidding. I draw the line at creepy crawlies. Something about all those legs…

      I’d rather eat an olive!

  • May 24, 2013

    This post was hilarious. I actually love olives and anchovies (especially, boquerones, the white Spanish anchovies cured in vinegar, yum) but I could see how it would be difficult having your two least favorite foods combined. As for me, I despise green bell peppers, yuck!

    • July 08, 2013

      One of my best friends hates bell peppers, too, and I could eat them by the pound! Thank you for reading and sharing =)

  • May 24, 2013

    Sounds like my kind of tour, I love both of those things!

    • July 08, 2013

      Ah! Then Costa Brava is the perfect spot for you! Thank you for reading =)

  • May 24, 2013

    Hil-ar-ious post!! I had to forward to my olive-hating husband. The ONE food he won’t eat. The stinkier the cheese the better…. but olives. No. (I do like them, though.) Anchovies on the other hand.. guess I better head to Costa Brava and give ’em another try!

    • July 08, 2013

      I really feel like the dislike of olives goes beyond a normal distaste. People REALLY hate them! Thank you for reading =)

  • May 29, 2013

    My mother’s family is Spanish and Italian so I LOVE anchovies and olives. However, I draw the line at some of their other foods. Tripe, morcilla, boiled squid? Me thinks not.

    • July 08, 2013

      Ewww, haven’t gotten around to trying tripe! Let’s hope there’s no film crew when that day comes.

  • June 13, 2013

    Ah! I actually JUST tried anchovies despite my better judgement because someone said they’re fabulous in the Cinque Terre. Not so much, but I was glad I at least tried them…could’ve been a pleasant surprise. This was too funny, can’t believe your worst nightmare was filmed!

    • July 08, 2013

      Ah! Another brave traveler! At least we can say we tried, right?!

  • October 12, 2013


    I have just come across your website. I am planning a visit to go the resort of L’escala costa brava next month. However would like to know from girona hhow far is it to the resort, and from LL’Escara how far is it to barcelona is there a direct train and lastly the resort is on the france boarderline so can you go road or train . Would really appreciate any feedback ..Thank you

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