1) Cut tilapia fillets into half lengthwise to form smaller strips.
2) Mix together the salt, black pepper, and garlic powder and coat the fish pieces on both sides.
3) Pour the buttermilk into a shallow baking dish.
4) Sprinkle the panko into a separate shallow baking dish.
5) Take one strip of the tilapia, dip into buttermilk and then panko, being sure fish is coated well. Repeat until all 8 pieces are coated.
6) Take a large heavy skillet and add cooking oil. Heat over medium high burner until oil sizzles when drop of water is applied.
7) Put several pieces of fish in at a time, cooking about 3 to 4 minutes on first side, then flipping and cooking 3 to 4 more minutes. Remove from pan when golden brown and put on paper towel covered cooling rack. Repeat with remaining pieces of fish. Add fresh oil in between batches if necessary, making sure the oil comes back up to temperature before adding more fish.