We recently teamed up with Reaper Feed as they covered their experience of the military exercises that took place in the Black Sea port of Varna to celebrate Bulgarian Navy Day. The military exercises were frankly jaw-dropping. Featuring a mixture of Soviet and NATO equipment, the Bulgarian military dropped from the skies, launched mock attacks on ships, and swopped overhead with helicopters. It was also where I discovered the Bulgarian fish and chips – Tsatsa!

I love a meal with a view. So when I soon became surrounded by an anxious crowd waiting to see the military exercises, I made a tactical retreat away from the coronavirus party to a nearby two-story restaurant in the Black Sea port. Luckily, I was the only one with this idea and nabbed an empty seat on the balcony with a cracking view of the impending military exercises.

Tsatsa in black sea port of Varna

After ordering a large coffee, the waitress suggested a plate of Tsatsa as they had just been freshly caught. I had no idea what Tsatsa was although I assumed it was seafood. As the parade was just about to begin and it was lunchtime I thought ”what the hell!” and ordered a plate.

My eyes were soon glued to bursts of Kalashnikov fire, faux terrorists being taken out by the Bulgarian version of the SBS, and two Eurocopter AS565 Panther helicopters circling low and dropping off more troops. One of these Bulgarian AS565 Panthers was actually featured in the movie Expendables 3.

The military exercises on display were so intense that they held my gaze for a while and I almost let my coffee go cold. The only thing that could distract my attention, however, was the plate of golden Bulgarian goodness straight from the Black Sea that had just been placed in front of me.

Tsatsa in black sea port of Varna

The plate was loaded with a small mountain of deep-fried, tiny fish with the heads and tails still on. The dish was complemented with a generous lemon wedge to squeeze over them. This was Tsatsa, a dish that has been known as the “Bulgarian rival to British Fish & Chips”.

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Researching the dish later, I found out that Tsatsa is essentially just deep fried sprats which is a herring type of fish. They are coated in flour, seasoned, and deep fried. In Bulgarian, it’s apparently one of the most popular dishes amongst locals especially along the Black Sea Coast where they make the perfect accompaniment to an ice cold beer on a warm day at the beach.

I’m afraid to say that after I took the first bite of Tsatsa, I promptly devoured the whole dish along with the adrenaline of the military exercises in front of me. As a result, I didn’t manage to get a photo. A photograph of Tsatsa with special forces repelling from a Bulgarian AS565 Panther would have made a great featured image for this article.

“A national obsession with the funny-sounding name tsatsa (цаца), this crispy seafood snack is the perfect companion to a cold beer on a hot day.”

The Kashkaval Tourist

However, on the plus side, I have since discovered a new love for this classic Bulgarian recipe and it is a feature of my visits to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. As a result, I have had the chance to take many photos of the Tsatsa dish so you can see what I enjoyed. Although, none of my subsequent Tsatsa experiences have come close to matching the experience that day at the Black Sea port of Varna.

So, is Tsatsa a serious contender for British Fish and Chips? As a native Brit myself, I don’t want to be accused of verging on treason by my readers. So I will have to say no. It is a damn good alternative though and one which I highly advise you to try if you’re ever in Bulgaria!